TriMatrix Labs Leans On Its Test Processing

April 11, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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" align=right border=0>GRAND RAPIDS — A few years ago when TriMatrix Laboratories had to move its facilities into a new building, it decided to think about a few things before making the move.

The result was a building plan that kept airflow, temperature, and the mixing of certain chemicals in mind.

Rick Wilburn, quality assurance manager of TriMatrix Laboratories, said that when the company had to move from Muskegon to accommodate a merger and growth, it was important to think about wind current, the process of testing, and the mix of chemicals that takes place when the scientists move from one area to another.

“When a scientist moves from one section of the testing facility to the other, they are obviously going to take some of the testing chemicals with them on their clothes,” said Wilburn.

“We had to break down the chemical testing process, figure out what would contaminate other samples, and then build the labs accordingly.”

The new labs are set up in a progressive fashion so that walking left to right through the labs is safe, but walking right to left is not. “We are very careful of cross-contamination,” said Wilburn.

“If you were to walk the opposite way through the labs, we could pick up a chemical on our clothes, carry it through and contaminate another sample.”

The laboratory does environmental testing for numerous commercial properties, as well as testing water for troops overseas for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Another area of consideration in the move, Wilburn said, was creating more efficiency overall. Improvements of that sort were not only made in the building’s set-up, but in test processing and in the computer system.

The Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is the computer system used by the laboratory and was custom designed in-house. “By designing the programs ourselves, we were able to format it accordingly to exactly what we needed it to do,” Wilburn said. “It is also useful because this way it can grow with us.”

Everything the company does is incorporated into the software.

For example, when a test sample comes into the lab, it is logged into the computer. It is then moved to the appropriate testing center and tested, with results logged into the LIMS.

Each test step is logged and bench sheets are printed off so that if something goes wrong in the sample, it can easily be traced to a skipped step, a mix of the wrong chemicals, or operator error.

After testing, the sample is tagged, color-coded and held for a designated period of time, and then either released back to the company or disposed of properly.

When samples are stored or kept in refrigeration, they are color-coded and placed on a specific shelf. “This is really a time saver. If I am looking for a sample from company X, I know what color it is and I know what shelf to look on, because it is all the same and it is all in the LIM System,” Wilburn said.

Throughout the testing process, the scientist is able to enter a project number and find out any previous information about a given sample so that he or she can be prepared for anything.

“If there is something the scientist needs to know about a specific sample — if it is volatile, or anything else — all they have to do is type in the project number to the LIM System and they will find all up-to-date information,” Wilburn explained.

Besides organizing all of the firm’s information, Wilburn stated that the system also saves time and money.

“Before, the samples would come in, it was all recorded on paper, and then the stacks of paper had to be transferred around. Now, the only paper that prints out is at the end of the night or at the end of a test, so that we can check and check again to make sure everything went as ordered,” he added.

Time is of the essence, he said, when a company wants or needs results as soon as possible.

“With the computer system we are sometimes able to process a sample overnight and get it back to the customer the next day so they can have the results,” said Wilburn. “Turn-around is very important to us.”

He added that quality assurance and quality control functions currently absorb nearly 50 percent of the available effort involved in routine analysis, and both continue to evolve and grow in importance.

“There are two reasons that this is essential,” he said. “First, so that accurate and analytical data can be obtained only with the concurrent use of extensive QA and QC to regulate and monitor the many process variables that can potentially introduce errors into chemical analysis,” Wilburn said.

“Secondly, clients make crucial business decisions based on the data supplied by the laboratory regarding the concentration of foreign substances in their samples.”

Wilburn said that lab data not properly supported by adequate quality assurance and quality control practices and procedures could be questionable, and lead to faulty or erroneous decisions in field situations. BJ

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