'About two and a half years ago, we visited laboratories to find out what they wanted, ' says Key Systems' Roger Chandler. 'Most laboratories used inhouse software, but wanted something to manage the data.'
Keylab, Key Systems' geotechnical laboratory management package, was developed in response to these conversations, as well as drawing on Chandler's and Keylab project manager John Reynolds' personal experience of working in commercial laboratories.
Modern geotechnical testing, especially with UKAS accreditation, involves a vast paper trail, Chandler explains.
Keylab was developed to give laboratory managers more control of the testing process through electronic scheduling and sample tracking. It is also designed to simplify the recording of test results.
Test schedules can be received from the client electronically. The test programme is set up on the database and preformatted hard-copy data sheets are produced for laboratory staff to record test results. Chandler says that because the package uses Excel spreadsheets, technicians do not have to be shown how the system works, they just have to be shown how to enter the data and Keylab takes care of everything else. 'They simply fill in the blanks, ' he says.
When results are keyed into the system, the schedule records when the test was completed and who carried it out. Access can be restricted to ensure quality control and approval of tests.
The sample tracker allows the laboratory manager to monitor the testing programme by selecting the sample on screen. The software tells them where the sample is and where it has been.
Key Systems says that a hand-held bar coding system can also be used to keep track of samples from the field to disposal.
The bulk of BS1377 tests are included, but the software can also accommodate new laboratory procedures not covered by the British Standards.
New test input and output sheets can be designed or existing ones modified to suit house style. The new sheets are incorporated into the system and can be used immediately, with Keylab automatically building a database to accommodate the new worksheet.
Excel's graphing facility has been extensively upgraded to enable plots that are suitable for engineering analysis.
'For example, triaxial results could not be plotted, as Excel would change the circle into an ellipse, ' Chandler explains. The package also allows curve fitting for compaction tests, a process that is normally done by hand.
Keylab exports AGS data and can also be synchronised with Holebase, allowing the main project database to be continually updated with laboratory test results.
Chandler explains that the main challenge in developing the software was to accommodate the variety of test procedures and ways in which results are presented by individual laboratories. 'We designed the software so users can do things the way they want to do it.'