What to Know When Automating Your Lab

The modern laboratory can be a complicated environment.  Laboratories are filled with highly specialized and expensive pieces of equipment.  Researchers perform workflows and processes that not only have many different steps but must also be performed with a high degree of precision to guarantee accurate results. Naturally, before automating such a complex environment, it is recommended that you take several steps to ensure that your automation project will be successful.   Here are some recommendations, from us, for you to consider when automating your lab:

  • Ensure your Lab will be operational while transitioning

It will be important to ensure that your lab will remain productive during your lab automation implementation. The last thing that you need is a work stoppage caused by unexpected or unplanned downtime.

Work closely with your team to develop safeguards and redundancies in the case of disruption to current workflows.  Coordinate equipment availability and down time with your vendor.  Create an implementation roadmap that outlines project timelines, key milestones and goals, and preplanned actions to take in the case of disruptions. Be wary of vendors that offer quick hardware delivery, but no detailed implementation or testing plan. That can be a red flag for post-delivery issues and prolonged downtime before the automation is production-ready.

  • Consider upstream and downstream impacts of the automation project

Its critical to consider what processes, systems and personnel operate both upstream and downstream of any new project when automating your lab – how will the increased throughput in your lab affect what they produce and consume? Is there the potential for new bottlenecks to emerge in other processes? Aligning all teams around what success looks like will help produce early wins that will boost morale and make it much easier to win further automation buy-in among managers, executives, and your team members. Finding early success will also help prevent any push-back against automation from developing early.

  • Establish what can be Performed with Existing Equipment

Before you begin planning for a new automation project, you should evaluate your current laboratory equipment and determine whether it can contribute to your automation workflow and whether it is automation friendly.  By comparing the workflows you want to automate with the capabilities of your existing lab equipment, you will not only prevent potential project pitfalls, but will also be able to more accurately budget for your project.  It will be demoralizing to your team and organization if an automation project is completed only for your team to realize the chosen equipment does not meet your project requirements. Working with a vendor that can model & simulate your workflows and system design in advance greatly reduces the risk of project issues.

Speak with your vendors, managers, and staff during the planning process to affirm that any planned automation can be performed. If the automation will need new equipment to be purchased, plan out those purchases before the automation needs to be implemented. You’ll want your teams to be as prepared as possible for any new implementation.

  • Prepare to become a “data-factory”

The efficiency and productivity gains that a successful automation project will bring can very quickly transform your lab into a highly productive data factory – it’s important to consider how that output data will be handled. How will data get in and out of your automation system? Will information need to be transferred manually or automatically between different data systems? Working with an automation vendor that offers a robust and open API infrastructure greatly streamlines data handling. Discuss your data handling needs with your automation vendor early – ask if they have experience with the data systems you are using – whether commercial solutions or in-house – and connect your informatics professionals to the vendor for these discussions. Treating the data with the same level of importance as your samples and assays will pay huge dividends when the automation system is operational.

  • Eye to the Future

During the planning stages of your automation project, it will be important to keep an eye on the future. Your scientific workflows and processes will eventually change, and new demands will be placed on the laboratory.  The work you performed five years ago is most likely very different to today, and you can expect the same to be true in another five years.   By planning for the future, you can build future expansion and flexibility into your robotic system so you can be prepared as your science changes, new technology is introduced on the market or as your organization changes.

Build in modularity into your robotic system. While planning, speak with your staff, ask questions about future projects, and consider the next 18 to 24 months and beyond. Future-proofing your system now will ensure that your workflows will remain viable through the inevitable future changes that come when automating your lab.

How HighRes Bio Can Help

As one of the most experienced partners within the laboratory automation space, our team of engineers, scientists and developers is ready to take on your automation project. Our hardware and software products and solutions are built with flexibility, modularity, and interactivity in mind, and can be easily implemented across a wide range of systems and designs. At HighRes, we believe that every project with our clients is a partnership for long-term success in lab automation.

Preparing for a new automation project? Get in touch with us today to learn how HighRes can help!

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