Laboratories can now put themselves under the microscope using a software toolkit developed at Glasgow University.
Barry Clark and Euan Crawford, of the department of pathological chemistry, have created an innovative computer model known as SIM, which allows the managers of analytical laboratories to simulate the flow of the work in their lab and maximise its efficiency.
The system uses screen displays made up of graphical icons that represent staff, equipment, and processes, including queues of samples. SIM can be used to see where there are bottlenecks, test the effect of changing work practices such as new business hours, and measure throughput rates and turn-around times under different conditions.
"People often don't understand the information flows within their own laboratories, and this makes it difficult to use expensive analysing equipment efficiently," said Dr Clark. Laboratories trying to increase efficiency often try to cut down the use of raw materials when they could make better use of their resources.
"SIM can provide hard evidence to support the case for changes in support services, working hours, and delivery patterns, and identify and eliminate peaks and troughs of usage," Dr Clark said.
A customised version of the SIM software has now been licensed to Bayer Diagnostics. In 1994, the Glasgow department used SIM to assess the workflow benefits of four rival machines when it was buying a new automated immunoassay analyser. This led Bayer to seek its help to develop the version it now uses to help potential clients assess their needs and forecast the effects of different equipment.