Considerations for Lab Automation

Our thoughts on the recent Lab Manager automation article

“Going Automated: Lessons from Lab Professionals Who Have Made the Leap” in the December issue of Lab Manager highlights some important baseline elements in considering whether or not laboratory automation is suitable for your organization, as well as what to expect during the process.  However, we suggest a few additional key points to consider as you give thought to the future of your lab:

Approach: Automation comes in many shapes and sizes, from large and complex monolithic systems to arrays of smaller systems working together to accomplish a unified task.  The selection of the appropriate approach to automation should be driven by a deep understanding of how your lab works today, how automation will change that work, and how likely it is that these workflows and conditions may change.  Different approaches yield different results, so rooting your automation strategy in a deep understanding of your practices and desired outcomes is critical to make sure your goals are accomplished. 

Flexibility: How much if any flexibility will you need?  In answering this question, we recommend you consider three points.  First, how much do you expect your research to evolve over the coming years.  Second, how much might future technology impact your automated system.  Third, how important is it for your system to be able to accommodate your answers to the first two questions.  It is quite possible to configure automated scientific processes to anticipate change and adjustment, but if you do not make this a requirement, you may likely end up with something purpose-built for today’s needs but unable to adapt for tomorrow.

Data handling: Automated systems are powerful data factories, producing significant amounts of information that will drive new analytical workloads.  Whether you consider this at the start of your project of a few years into your automation project, eventually you will need to have a firm view on how to provide data to and from the system, and how its information output will be digested.  Over and over, we have seen organizations focus heavily on ensuring their automation system has the maximum potential output, while overlooking what will happen with the output itself.

Partnership: There are many suppliers that provide lab automation solutions to the life science market.  When considering automation, you should really ask yourself are you looking for a vendor or a partner.  A vendor sells you something.  A partner works with you to understand your needs now and in the future, your project goals and your organization’s expectations.  If you find your required solution is simple, then choosing a vendor may be your choice.  If you’re unsure about your approach, requirements, or goals, then a partner may be your preferred choice.

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