Using Centralized Data Collection in a Dairy Cooperative

Foremost Farms is a dairy cooperative which is owned by around 4,400 dairy farmers in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The cooperative’s 26 manufacturing plants make packaged fluid milk, cheese, sour cream, chilled, ready-to-serve juices, butter and a range of value-added whey ingredients. The cooperative has 25 laboratories which test cheese, milk, and food ingredients.

Key Challenges

The Foremost Farms laboratories each had developed techniques for data collection and storage. There were two basic data collection requirements to be addressed:

  • Data from the ingredients manufacturing processes
  • Data which is analyzed for their patrons (the cooperative farmers) and regulatory agencies

Using an Excel spreadsheet method, the patron milk sample data was being gathered and managed by a set of distributed systems. The result of this was a huge volume of data existing in separate systems, which could not be searched or tracked easily.

To meet everyone’s requirements, it was decided that a standard LIMS should be implemented. They were willing to commit to the laboratory and IT resources necessary to the project development and long-term support. Yet, it needed a user-managed system, which was simple to use from a laboratory technician’s standpoint and configurable by the users for setting up screens and queries after installation.

Basically, they did not want to assign a permanent IT person to the laboratory to support the system, but instead, wanted to support the LIMS as they would any other large corporate database.

System Sought

The company assessed their requirements and established that they needed a LIMS solution that could solve the following problems:

  • Better products tracking to yield
  • Deployment to all locations using a single database server
  • Lot analysis and customer specification checking to establish the appropriate customer for the product
  • Standardization of testing procedures and forms across the company
  • Formation of information packages by marketing and the technical departments for customers
  • Limiting access to data by role and individual
  • Instrument interfacing
  • Fast and accurate test results comparisons to specifications
  • Report generation for internal distribution and government reporting to different states and the USDA
  • Data access from anywhere on the corporate intranet
  • Configurability and support by laboratory personnel. The company created a task force to establish the requirements of the laboratories and choose a company-wide vendor.

System Selected

Seven LIMS vendors were initially looked at and the final choice was LabVantage. This decision was made due to the out-of-the-box functionality and the configurability inherent in LabVantage LIMS. Furthermore, the level of support that a company of LabVantage's size could deliver, were key points in the selection.

System Delivered

A total of 25 laboratories have now implemented the system. It handles most of the data collection requirements at the seven ingredients laboratories, while the other locations are utilizing the system for tracing data going to/from central lab locations, patron herd testing, and milk testing for the cheese plants.

LabVantage LIMS handles around 300 samples a day for the ingredients laboratory and an additional 1,200 samples for the central laboratories.

A further 3,000 patron milk samples are interfaced to the patron payment system each day. The current implementation of LIMS has around 50 instruments interfaced to it, these include:

  • Aquastar Moisture analyzers
  • Foss/Milko Scan (an infrared milk testing instrument)
  • LECO Protein Analyzers
  • pH meters
  • Analytical balances from several different manufacturers

Furthermore, the company has employed the Aironet radio link system, which permits the laboratory personnel to gather data on mobile laptops that load the data straight into the LIMS via the radio link. So, the data is kept in the laboratory and patron payment systems instead of distributed over the numerous systems that previously existed. Foremost Farms personnel now know exactly where to look for their required data.

The database is kept on a server found at the corporate headquarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and, after it has been entered into LabVantage LIMS, data from any laboratory is available throughout the corporate network.

Return On Investment

Foremost has discovered that the productivity of its laboratories has increased, permitting laboratory personnel to redirect their efforts from data management to science due to the implementation of a standardized system. Furthermore, due to the standardization, IT has found that they are now able to focus their efforts on other value-added activities, which can be leveraged over the 25 laboratories.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by LabVantage Solutions, Inc.

For more information on this source, please visit LabVantage Solutions, Inc.

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