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Seven Keys to an Effective Contract Laboratory

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Published Date Written by Sara Prins (Operations and Quality Manager)

Selecting a third party analytical laboratory is difficult; and the stakes are high when you rely on a third party for analytical results. Accordingly, this choice should be heavily supported by your organization and your needs. There are seven key factors you should consider when selecting the appropriate third-party laboratory:

  • accreditation;

  • customer service;

  • consistency;

  • logistics;

  • added services;

  • industry contacts; and

  • management presence.

Accreditation

According to ISO 17025 standards, accreditation ensures that a laboratory’s quality system has been examined for adequacy and functionality. It also indicates that there is a comprehensive system of checks and balances in place to verify that the laboratory is technically competent and can produce unequivocal results. Under the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) agreement, accreditation also gives the customer the additional piece of mind ‘measured once, accepted everywhere’.

UIS Analytical Services is accredited to ISO 17025 by SANAS (SANAS T0184 – www.sanas.co.za ) for a large number of our analytical test methods. A rigorous Quality Policy is in place; this ensures that ALL the analytical work is performed under the guidelines of ISO 17025, even if the specific test is not yet accredited. UIS Analytical Services constantly reviews how work is performed to ensure continuous improvement is implemented. Customer feedback is also monitored closely (see www.uis-as.co.za/index.php/rate-our-service to give your feedback if you have used our services).

Customer Service

Good customer service goes hand in hand with generating results. Your laboratory partner must be courteous, available, and timely in meeting your needs. Laboratory staff should be knowledgeable and provide guidance that will improve your process. Your industry might be blind to the concept of “after hours,” holidays, and weekends, e.g. if you run a plant that requires the feedback from analytical results ever few hours. You might need access to services, data, and information after hours. Your analytical partner should be able to meet those needs, where reasonable.

At UIS Analytical Services we value our customers, and depending on contract needs, can accommodate large 24/7 projects. We remain flexible to assist with smaller projects too where customers needs ad hoc batches of samples analysed on an urgent bases and where tests allow it, turnaround times of 24 or 48 hours can be negotiated.

Consistency

Consistency is critical at many levels, including sample processing and analysis, result reporting, troubleshooting, and overall communication. This element is important for providing long-term perspective, especially during times of process variability. Consistency will help minimize the variability that occurs even in the best of preventative circumstances.

While the analytical methods used by your third party laboratory are standardized and validated, unpredictable outcomes can occur due to a number of reasons. Consistent laboratory logistics and procedures aid technical staff in troubleshooting inconsistent results. This capability is paramount when it comes to data interpretation and resulting implications, especially regulatory actions. Consistency can help put our mind at ease during critical times of uncertainty. Laboratories with a reputation for consistency use accredited, validated, and/or standardized methods, quality control standards, technical training, results interpretation, and reporting.

Under our Quality Policy Manual, the test methods that UIS Analytical Services offer are subjected to method development, validation and verification before they are offered as external services, and the necessary quality control measures and calibrations are implemented to ensure that they perform consistent.

Furthermore, our technical team has extensive industry and analytical experience to assist our customers with advice on best practices, analytical approaches and their troubleshooting processes.

Logistics

A laboratory’s plan for receiving and processing samples directly affects timeliness and, in some cases, the cost of analysis. Your third party laboratory should be available when you need service and be accessible by couriers and for overnight deliveries, if so required.

Samples should be processed upon receipt, even after hours, during weekends, or on holidays. Time to results should only be increased by the limitations of the analytical method. If you have samples requiring urgent processing, your laboratory partner must be flexible and provide options. In many cases, various analytical tests can be performed, and your laboratory should be your guide in helping you reach optimal product delivery logistics. When a laboratory cannot process your product for a particular test, it should offer alternative services. A laboratory partner should never hinder the process, no matter how logistically challenging

UIS Analytical Services makes use of an internally developed Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) that has been custom designed for our services and is used to monitor the progress of your analysis. When you submit your samples, the turn-around time will be agreed with you to ensure you receive your results timeously.

Added Services

Added services such as consulting, auditing, education, research, and technical support allow you to consider results in the bigger context of analysis reliability and quality. Ideally, your laboratory should provide these value-added services.

If analytical results are less than your desired goal, your laboratory should be able to provide you with additional support, such as consulting and auditing, to further examine potential hurdles to your goal. For example, if your environmental samples demonstrate unacceptable micro-organism levels, your laboratory should offer consulting and auditing services to help you work through processing issues and potential niche areas in the facility. Your laboratory partner should furthermore be willing and able to work with you to dissect such problems, offer alternate approaches, and help to validate solutions. Further, this holistic approach to analytical services can yield results more quickly and increase your team’s competence, and the quality of the service you provide to your clients.

UIS Analytical Services has an extensive partner network, which allows us to ensure that your samples stops once only, no matter what additional tests you might require. Our team’s technical and managerial expertise is also highly complementary so that we can assist customers at various stages of their analytical needs, as well as consult on best practices, laboratory information management and quality management.

Industry Contacts

Networking should also be an extension of your third party’s laboratory’s services. Through your laboratory, you should have open access to a network of resources and contacts that can support you and your organization, or simply keep you informed, as needs arise. Laboratories that are actively involved in industry trade meetings and technical sessions and have long-standing relationships with industry leaders can provide information and support with more depth and speed. Laboratory partners that uphold and maintain such relationships can more strategically guide you through technological advances and regulatory change.

UIS Analytical Services are active in a wide scope of technical activities, ranging from mining and exploration samples through to finished products and environmental samples in a variety of matrices. We participate in a number of technical forums, and our Marketing and Business Development section ensures that we reach all market sectors on a regular basis.

Management Presence

Effective management is critical to any operation that relies on the skills of individual employees. The laboratory business offers many great technological advances and, in some cases, automation; however, a laboratory’s quality is still founded on the basic skills of the laboratory technician. Make sure that your laboratory partner maintains a strong management presence that ensures that the principles of the quality system are maintained, especially as they relate to employee training and competence, verification of results, and customer service.

A committed approach to technical training and support is critical. Moreover, the depth of a laboratory’s technical support should be obvious from its overall knowledge base and, more importantly, with regard to available technical staff. Timely access to trained technical staff that can answer questions and provide information is directly proportional to your ability to address needs as they arise.

UIS Analytical Services has a successful record of 10 years of services to wide industry base. The success of the ten years of excellence is based on careful selection to employ only the best and to continuously improve the skills of the staff. The Management Team works closely with the laboratory staff to ensure they and the UIS Analytical Services’ Directors are up to date with the activities of the laboratory and requirements of industry so that our customers receives the best possible technical and customer service.

For all your analytical services needs, partner with us for a one-stop quality service and call  UIS Analytical Services on 012 665 4291 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

(This article was adapted from an article originally published by Wendy Warren PhD in Food Quality magazine, October/November 2010)

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