About the Client: Process improvements are initiated within an organization with the aim of streamlining an existing process to reduce the cycle time, errors, and overhead costs, and thus improve the overall productivity. LTTS undertook a process improvement initiative for one of India's largest petroleum and refinery companies for their laboratory information management system (LIMS). The client, one of India's largest oil marketing company, is engaged in the production of liquid and gaseous fuels, illuminating oils, lubricating oils or greases or other products from crude petroleum or bituminous minerals. L&T Technology Services partnered with the client to be a one-stop solution provider for automation of data going into LIMS. It replaced the manual process with an automated one, that included among other things, digitization of the data captured from various analysis instruments to be entered into LIMS and elimination of manual tasks. The client was able to achieve significant reduction in validation time and improvement in productivity.
Background and Challenge: The client has in place the SampleManager LIMS software solution from Thermo Fisher, to enter and store/archive the results of sample analysis of petroleum products produced at their plant. Prior to the automated process implementation, the results from the instruments were captured manually on a recording sheet after every analysis. These results are sent to the QA (quality assurance) manager for approval before entering them into LIMS by a lab technician. The entire process was time consuming and prone to human error, consequently reducing the productivity of LIMS users. To make the process more efficient, the client wanted to automate the entire procedure of entering instrument results into LIMS, to eliminate manual intervention and turnaround time for samples. This way the people could access near real-time status about the quality of the products.
The Solution: To automate the instrument results entry, LTTS interfaced the instruments to a server through a framework. The server maintains the instances of all process parameters for the framework and the data acquisition protocol converter converts the proprietary protocol into a standard protocol understood by the server. The results are displayed on a windows-based PC to the QA Manager, thus saving considerable time.
Moreover, the data upload to LIMS is simplified, as the framework generates flat files of the approved results for all the instruments at a centralized location for upload. The data transfer service (DTS), an XML based solution, was also developed by LTTS to process the flat files at regular intervals and upload the results to LIMS, using LIMS web-service. A key feature of the solution is that the integration architecture allows addition of instruments without any changes to the DTS.
The new solution facilitates standardization of sample identification and entering of sample IDs to the instruments, across the laboratory. In the event of either the LIMS web service or LIMS database not being available, the DTS queues up the results files that need to be processed. The DTS also provides extensive logging capabilities to provide more insight on the upload status of the sample results.
Thus, in a nutshell, the scope of engagement for LTTS included the following:
Study of instruments that did not have an interface with LIMS and identification of their interface options
Development of the hardware and firmware protocol converter
Interfacing of the framework and the server with the protocol converter hardware
Development of the data transfer service application to collect data from the XML file, and to integrate it with the LIMS server
Moreover, the following suite of tools & technologies was used for developing the solution:
Language/Platform: C, C#, microcontroller
Frameworks: Proprietary asynchronous message based communication, QT, .Net Framework 3.5
Protocols used: Wireless – ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Wired – Modbus, Ethernet, CAN, Profibus
Quantifiable Benefits: The client achieved significant improvement in their QA process, which was transformed from a manual paper-based process to an automated paperless one. The solution developed by LTTS helped them to attain faster validation process, thus helping them to lower the validation cycle time. In addition, the client witnessed reduced development and deployment cost that saved IT investment costs. As the turnaround time for sample analysis reduced significantly, the client also benefited from faster time-to-market. The information sharing was more integrated and error-proof that moreover eliminated rework and lab related administration.
Keywords: Data, Quality Assurance, Oil & Gas, Process Improvement, LIMS, L&T Technology Services, ARC Advisory Group.