The Lavetan laboratory, located in Turnhout, is not a conventional laboratory, in terms of its layout dotted with lines and industrial robots. The company received the Factory of the Future Award in 2019 for its extensive work towards transformation.
Lavetan contributes to the optimization of the quality of food companies.
The company is determined to go beyond simple analysis results. Its objective is to actively support clients in terms of quality assurance, by providing structured analytics data for clients to adjust their quality policy. This work, and much more, forms part of the transformations involved in receiving ‘Factory of the Future’ status, awarded to the company in 2019, with good cause.
Lavetan performs microbiological, serological and chemical analyses on blood samples and food products for farms, food processors and supermarkets, among others. Lavetan’s development is unfolding over three major stages. Early on, in 1997, the laboratory was working on more manual applications. The laboratory technicians would manually inoculate Petri dishes and count bacteria colonies with the naked eye after incubation. Lavetan processed approximately 400 samples per day. In 2008, Lavetan installed a new system, the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), an essential tool for operations on an industrial scale. Order and sample entries, sampling, input, verification and publication of results have been processed in LIMS since then, along with reports to be sent to clients. Since the system came online, the company has more than doubled its capacity, to no less than 1,000 samples per day.
Since 2015, Lavetan has been aiming to increase its capabilities by focusing on digitisation and robotics.
The company has mapped all its processes, has identified prime areas for robotisation and has implemented this step-by-step. The organisation has thus transitioned from a full “paper” system to almost entirely digital organisation, a prerequisite for speedy access to data. In addition, the company installed two inoculation robots in the microbiology laboratory in autumn that year, and connected them to LIMS. During sampling, LIMS informs the inoculation robot management system of the dilutions to be applied according to the tests, as well as the type of Petri film – see ‘Eco Factory’ below. The tubes that pass before the inoculation robots are identified by a barcode, linked to data such as number of dilutions, incubation time and temperature, etc. The robot then immediately knows what to do.
The digital transition mentioned above has drastically reduced the amount of incoming paper documents compared to previous years, from one pallet per month to just a few packs. Moreover, the automation has been carefully thought out. When the inoculation robots were installed, the Petri dishes were replaced, to the greatest extent possible, by Petri film, which takes up less space in the incubators and reduces plastic waste.
Human Centred Organisation
The various dashboards provide laboratory technicians with access to all the information they need to work autonomously. They can decide for themselves how many people they need for sampling throughout the day, thus ensuring optimum productivity. As information on dilutions and other steps is set up in LIMS, technicians are no longer required to be experts in the system, meaning that training for newcomers can now be more gradual. Reports are submitted to the microbiology department at the touch of a button. As soon as a sample enters company premises, the report – as well as the numbers – is immediately available in four languages.
Clients can view scan results and perform statistical operations on an online portal. But Lavetan wants to go even further in this area. As part of maintaining client service quality, people sometimes change department or leave for other reasons, thus breaking the continuity for certain files. Lavetan wants to solve this problem by providing clients with structured analysis data in the form of clear information, allowing them to adjust their quality policy if necessary. To check the analysis results as necessary, Lavetan also plans to create a self-learning system, allowing results analysis at any time, 24 hours a day, without having to rely on staff availability, for example. In addition, this ensures the same level of quality for each file.