How to Tell When You Need to Automate Your Lab

Managing and operating a lab can be a complicated task. With so many moving parts to manage and keep track of, it can be hard to understand when to make changes to long-existing workflows/processes.  The pace of scientific research and subsequent publications over the past 5 years only increased with the Covid-19 pandemic.  This pace only looks to continue in the future.  This will put additional pressure on both academic and industry scientists to expand their research and development capabilities.  Whether your focus is on small or large molecule entity research, you may be asking yourself some of the following questions: what are my or my team’s current pain points?  How can my team improve sample uniformity across the multitude of assays being performed in our lab? Are these temporary roadblocks or symptoms of underlying issues with our processes?

When it comes to addressing these production bottlenecks and improving lab output, few tools are as useful as laboratory automation. Robotic solutions can not only alleviate some of the workload constraints that you and your team are facing, but also may allow your personnel to automate simple tasks today and, as your research expands over time, evolve your automation solution to meet future demands of your science and/or organization.

At HighRes Biosolutions, we have decades of experience working with small to large multinational organizations to manage their lab operations and workflows. We’ve outlined here the most common signs we’ve seen that your lab is outgrowing its current workflows and could be helped by the introduction of automation.

1. Expanding Sample Consumption 

Over the past 7 years, we have seen a trend in the market towards smaller more focused assays.  Though these focused assays may require fewer samples to be run during a specific workflow, we have seen an increase in the demand to perform several workflows simultaneously, which results in increased sample consumption.  This increase in assay demand increases the workload on your scientists.  This increase in workload can lead to errors and false positives.

If you see this trend occurring within your team or organization, observe the commonly repeated tasks and the recurring errors. If your data points to an increase in errors due to repeatable tasks, it may be time for you to evaluate and consider implementing automation across your lab.

2. Inconsistent Results with Experiments 

As your team’s assay workload increases, you may encounter varying results and issues in sample uniformity across your experiments.  This could be a sign that your team is struggling to keep pace with your research demand.  This can be incredibly detrimental to your operations, as precision is critical when measuring your lab’s performance. One of the single largest contributors to lab inconsistencies is human error. This is easy to understand when you see the full scale of what lab technicians are often asked to do.  

Manually preparing tens of thousands of samples by hand can be a tedious and painstaking process. Attempting to maintain a standard level of accuracy can make this even more difficult. Fortunately, lab automation can convert manual tasks into automated workflows that rapidly complete tasks with a high degree of accuracy and consistency.  

3. High Labor Costs 

One of the clearest signs of when it’s time to automate your lab is realizing your labor costs are too high. Your budget is a careful balance of staff resourcing, equipment and lab supplies, and other important variables. Lab automation can be a cost-saving solution if you find yourself consistently overspending on labor. Robots can run and operate with minimal human supervision, automating a workflow can allow you to increase the number of experiments your lab performs whilst minimizing actual FTE labor costs. The cost savings realized long term from automated workflows can be tremendous.   

Knowing When You Need to Automate Your Lab 

Only you can know for sure when it’s time to automate your lab. However, if you’re experiencing issues with results consistency, difficult to manage spikes in assay demand, or increased labor costs, it might be time to implement automation.  

Lab Automation can accelerate an extremely wide range of application areas, from Compound Management, High Throughput Screening, Cell Culture, Cell-based and biochemical assays, genomics, and beyond. Regardless of where you begin, HighRes has the experience and expertise to start your automation on the right foot.  

As one of the most experienced lab automation partners in the industry, our engineers, developers, and application specialists work closely with you to develop solutions that bring measurable results and improved productivity to your workflows. We invite you to learn more to understand how we can help with your next automation project.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is automation in a clinical laboratory?

Overall, automating a clinical laboratory requires careful planning and consideration of a range of factors. It is important to assess the specific needs and goals of the laboratory, as well as the potential benefits and challenges of automation, to determine the best course of action

  1. Type of Testing: Different types of tests require different levels of automation. Some tests may require more manual processing, while others can be fully automated. It is important to assess the testing needs of the laboratory and determine which tests can be automated.
  2. Cost: Automation can be expensive, so it is important to consider the financial implications of automating a clinical laboratory. This includes not just the cost of the technology, but also the cost of implementation, training, and maintenance.
  3. Staffing: Automating a clinical laboratory can impact staffing levels and job responsibilities. It is important to assess the current staffing levels and determine whether additional training or staffing will be required.
  4. Workflow: Automation can significantly change the workflow of a clinical laboratory. It is important to assess the current workflow and determine how automation will impact the flow of samples and results.
  5. Regulatory Compliance: Laboratories are subject to strict regulatory requirements, and automation can impact compliance. It is important to ensure that any automated processes meet regulatory requirements and are validated appropriately.
  6. Interoperability: Automation can improve the integration of laboratory systems and data. However, it is important to ensure that any automated systems are interoperable with other systems used within the laboratory and across the healthcare organization.
  7. Data Security: Automation can increase the amount of data generated and shared within a clinical laboratory. It is important to ensure that any automated systems have appropriate data security measures in place to protect patient data.
  8. Quality Control: Automation can improve the accuracy and consistency of testing, but it is important to ensure that appropriate quality control measures are in place to validate automated results.

What is the role of automation in a laboratory?

Automation plays a crucial role in today’s laboratory by improving efficiency, accuracy, and reproducibility of laboratory tests. It has transformed laboratory workflows, enabling laboratories to process larger volumes of samples, reducing the turnaround time for test results, and minimizing the risk of errors.

Automation in the laboratory can encompass a range of technologies and processes, including laboratory information management systems (LIMS), sample preparation and handling, testing instruments, data analysis, and reporting. These systems can be integrated to create a seamless and efficient laboratory workflow.

One of the major benefits of automation in the laboratory is increased accuracy and reproducibility of results. Automated systems can reduce the risk of human error, improving the consistency of test results. This is particularly important in clinical laboratories where accurate and reliable results are essential for patient diagnosis and treatment.

Automation can also help to reduce the workload for laboratory staff, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks and increasing their productivity. This can lead to cost savings for laboratories, as automation can reduce the need for manual labor and minimize the risk of sample and data errors.

Another benefit of automation is the ability to process a larger volume of samples. This is particularly important for high-throughput laboratories, such as those in research or public health settings, where large-scale testing is required.

In summary, automation plays a critical role in modern laboratory workflows by improving accuracy, efficiency, and reproducibility of laboratory tests, reducing costs, and increasing the capacity to process large volumes of samples.

What are the types of laboratory automation?

There are several types of laboratory automation, each with its own benefits and applications. Some of the main types of laboratory automation are:

  1. Pre-analytical Automation: This type of automation involves automating the processes involved in sample collection, transportation, and processing. Examples include automated sample handling and sorting, automated labeling, and automated transport systems.
  2. Analytical Automation: Analytical automation involves automating the processes involved in sample analysis. Examples include automated pipetting, automated liquid handling, and robotic systems that can perform multiple tests simultaneously.
  3. Post-analytical Automation: This type of automation involves automating the processes involved in reporting and data management. Examples include automated result reporting, data entry, and interfacing with electronic health records.
  4. Total Laboratory Automation (TLA): TLA involves integrating all aspects of laboratory automation, from sample handling to result reporting, into a single, seamless system. This type of automation can improve laboratory efficiency, reduce errors, and streamline workflows.

Overall, laboratory automation can improve laboratory efficiency, reduce errors, and improve the quality of laboratory testing. The choice of automation type depends on the specific needs and workflows of each laboratory.

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