When it comes to managing your laboratory or R&D data, having flexible software is a must. It is critical to find software that is both configurable and meets your needs. Electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) software is a standard solution for many companies. Much like using a paper notebook, ELNs allow users to store raw materials, formulas, protocols, notes, and more.*
Cloud-Based vs. On-Premise Solutions
The pandemic prompted many companies to consider a cloud-based software solution for storing raw materials and formulas. With a cloud platform, users can connect to the database from nearly anywhere in the world with internet access. This means that users can easily work remotely if their position allows it.
On-premise ELN systems are available for companies that prefer an in-house solution. Most on-premise software comes with an option for program maintenance (PM), which allows for a certain amount of telephone and email support. It also will allow for free downloads and software upgrades. PM contracts are usually valid for one year, with the option of renewal. As with other types of software, the cost of the PM contract will be roughly 20-25% of the software’s MSRP.
With cloud-based software, companies typically pay a monthly subscription fee for as long as they would like to have access to the software. In contrast, on-premise software generally requires a one-time perpetual license fee for the file server. It is important to keep in mind that when a company gets a new file server, it may be necessary to purchase a new version of the on-premise software.
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Security and Access Considerations
Most companies report an improvement with security when they choose a cloud-based platform. Data is encrypted, and disaster recovery plans are more efficient. For added levels of security, find a software package that is FDA CFR Part 11 compliant. If using cloud-based software, ask about utilizing two-factor authentication.
In addition to user and/or user group security, software packages can allow certain formulas to be assigned to security groups. In these cases, only the members of the security group will have access to the formulas.
It is possible to make the software available to all users who can benefit from it. This may include some surprises, like salespeople. Salespeople find software useful for tracking costs, sell prices, product data sheets, safety data sheets (SDS), and certificates of analysis. If the software offers sample tracking or project management, that is an added plus.
It is also important to identify a software product that can grow as the company expands. Find one that makes it easy to add users and modules as they become necessary.
Many companies find an auditing option to be beneficial. Most software provides a date and time stamp for formula records. Some packages will also keep logs of activity by username, which allows users to quickly find where they left off for certain projects. Activity records also give management information about which areas users are spending most of their time in, as well as help determine which areas need more staff or analysis.
Companies in the adhesives and sealants industry should always look for software that is designed for process manufacturers. Several software companies offer discreet manufacturing software, but this is altogether different. Process manufacturing software provides the option of mixing various units of measure. For example, you might work in grams, pounds, kilos, bags, gallons, and liters. Look for software that will also allow various weight and volume units but enable users to formulate by weight % or volume % if needed.
Implementing physical properties and equations is another key function needed in the adhesives and sealants industry. Choosing a software system should reduce or eliminate the need for calculators and spreadsheets. With software that allows user-definable properties and equations, users should be able to hit target objectives while formulating. For example, users may wish to achieve a target viscosity or specific gravity but only want to adjust part of the formula. Good formulation software provides users with tools to meet these types of requirements.
Companies find that software enables: simple and speedy formulation development; selection by use of previous formulas; and instant access to materials, costing, and prediction of physical property performance. Software that has a “compare” feature is useful because it enables formulas to be compared side-by-side.
Software also helps eliminate data entry mistakes. Once data is entered, it can be used without re-entry. Packages can also enable users to create their own fields and specify whether these fields are required during data entry.
Going one step further, some software packages feature the ability to import existing data, as well as functions to import and export from spreadsheets. Companies that have an existing software system that they have outgrown should be sure to look for a solution that allows for data import. Some formulation software also has options to integrate data from another software system. On the other hand, a company can look at this as an opportunity to clean up data.
Supply Chain Management
During the pandemic, raw material supplies have dwindled or perhaps vanished all together. Software can provide the ability to find all formulas that use scarce raw materials, as well as search and replace tools to formulate with raw materials that are available.
Other tools such as material requirements planning are key to keeping a close eye on supply and demand for production. In addition, advanced costing capabilities allow users to enter future costing for raw materials and packaging so that the long-term cost of formulas can easily be managed.
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Data Sheets and Reporting
In the adhesives and sealants industry, it is beneficial to find software that enables users to generate SDS using the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) format. SDS-related data should be accessible by all users who are involved in the design or output of the SDS. Find a software package that follows a reputable resource for SDS design and content, such as the United Nations Purple Book.
Each company’s GHS SDS output should be based on its current formulations. Therefore, it is imperative that the software uses current raw materials and formulas for calculating the various sections of the SDS.
When needed, find a software package that uses third-party report design software to customize reports. If the document will be customer-facing, be sure to add elements such as the company logo to be consistent with other vital documents that the customer base receives.
Trials and Training
Some formulation software provides users with an opportunity to download and install a trial version. If you plan to take advantage of this, be sure to use the software during the trial period. Check with the formulation software company to make certain that you will not lose any of the data entered during the trial period. Consider whether to purchase some training time and take advantage of implementing the software to meet your needs. If you decide to buy, users will have a jump-start on implementing the software.
Take advantage of software training. Implementing the software often requires special configurations or techniques to suit a company’s needs. The return on investment (ROI) for training time is very short. Many companies implement successful systems by training a few key people and then having those people train others internally. This allows the trainers to imbed company-specific procedures along with the software training.
Many aspects need to be considered when choosing the right formulation software. Cost is important but should not be the only deciding factor. Laboratory and R&D personnel can provide details regarding what software tools they need to provide the company with the advantages that lead to success. Make certain that the same personnel are part of the decision-making process, and the ROI will be well worth it.
For more information, call (908) 735-2145 or visit www.formulatorus.com.
*Such as cloud and on-premise PC-based solutions from Formulator Software LLC
Note: Opening image courtesy of AleksandarNakic via GettyImages.com.