FROM MANUAL TO DIGITAL TO AUTOMATED

Prior to the 1980s, the processes in manufacturing for capturing data, performing analyses, and creating reports were very error prone and time-consuming. In other words, it consisted of manually inputting data and calculating the results, manually creating the reports and graphs to showcase those results, and manually calculating trends to guide decisions and strategies.

We recently sat down with Tim Clark, President, and Terry Starrett to learn about the history of Lab4Action, our laboratory data management system (LDMS). These types of systems are also known as a laboratory information management systems (LIMS), laboratory management systems (LMS) or laboratory information systems (LIS).

THE PROBLEM

Terry Starrett: “The overall goal used to be to eliminate manual transmission errors. For instance, previous testing was antiquated for CO2, bricks, etc. and the time to send that data was very slow. When we started looking at developing a lab system, we found that current processes were all paper-based and involved filing cabinets – manual forms. Some people were using programs like VisiCalc, Quatro Pro. It was the beginning of spreadsheets with people typing the data into computer terminals.  ”

Tim Clark: “Certainly no one was doing integration or intelligence. For our client, a small bottler outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, we had created a line monitoring solution. From our contact there, we knew Coca-Cola Consolidated needed a similar-type software for their lab. They had created an internal system, but it was a single-user lab system for database entry and forms. They needed to make it multi-user and wanted to be able to more easily capture QA/QC type data on the factory-floor as well as do more with the data that was captured.”

Terry Starrett: “So in the early 1990s, we met with them and started by taking what they did and reproduced it. They needed a server-based system with a database to support multiuser. They wanted to capture data easily and they were running basic tests at that time… line samples, torque, net contents and some manual entry CIP. We started with working in old Borland Paradox with form builders, probably was MS-DOS first and then in Windows when that first came out.”

MULTIUSER SOLUTION

Tim Clark: “We called our solution Laboratory Data Management System (LDMS), and we were feeling our way with this, the early phases of working with multiuser databases. But we listened to the client and customized a system for them. We built from scratch an original system because we did not know anyone out there doing what we were doing. Probably the best compliment given about our solution is that they implemented it in all four of their plants, and they kept adding it other plants as they came online. Over the years, we’ve been told that they cannot run their labs without it. They see Lab4Action as an essential component for their day to day activities and lab data management.”

Terry Starrett: “And also they kept coming to us asking for more features and additional services. This is how we created batch verification and package verification and focused on being able to run those tests from the factory floor. We upgraded and updated the program as coding or technology evolved. We improved and continue to improve the speed and connectivity availability of our solutions. When we first started, RS232 was limited to something like 50 feet. Now with WiFi, Bluetooth and IoT, everything is easier. However, two factors always seem to drive technology demands… the need to improve speed and improve distance of connectivity.”

LAB4ACTION’S FUTURE

Tim Clark: “LDMS systems have changed based on code changes and their ability to interface directly with equipment. I see that this will only continue. I expect that systems like Lab4Action will continue to provide even more automated testing by integrating and interfacing with more types of lab testing equipment.  Today measurement technology requires more refinement. The demand is to get the results immediately shared and presented in real-time.”

“We were on the forefront of bringing testing away from the lab and getting it out on the production or factory floor. I am certain that will also continue as technology and connectivity allows for testing and lab data to become a more direct extension of the production process. Robots will have testing incorporated into their processes and be included within the production line.”

“The other thing that I see will be what we were working on in the late 1980s. Voice capability incorporated into processes. We produced a demo version and tested in textiles. Today, voice recognition capabilities and accuracy are far superior, so I am certain more Voice Recognition Inspection Systems will be integrated into the environments.

“The challenges will be to keep up with technology and to stay ahead of the curve. Because equipment is not standardized, integration capability and innovative customization will be important factors to consider when manufacturers look to improve their processes. Those are the two differentiators we have always maintained: our ability to offer unique levels of customization and integration with a facility’s existing systems and processes. With Lab4Action, those two factors combined with our very detailed and granular reporting capabilities have allowed to not only satisfy our clients, but also help them grow by giving them keen insight into their processes and their data.”

Interested in a flexible, customizable Lab Data Management solution with robust reporting and graphical capabilities? Visit our site to set up a demo of Lab4Action.