Laboratory automation is an emerging technology that has the potential to transform the way we work and live. In laboratories, it may offer a way to accomplish more and faster while maintaining quality by positioning laboratory instruments with robot arms (hence ‘automation’) in key locations or at critical moments in a process.
Automation can be broadly divided into two types: autonomous automation, where robotic equipment operates independently, without human intervention, and collaborative automation, where robots work side-by-side with humans.
Today’s networked instrumentation can be controlled from a distance using computers, laptops, and smartphones. If an instrument malfunctions in the field, the manufacturer can remotely adjust its settings or access its computer without leaving the office. But the data analysis, synthesis, and preparation of results that often characterize laboratory work would not be possible using today’s technology.
A new generation of instruments addresses this challenge by bringing together sensing and actuating technologies, neural networks, artificial intelligence, advanced image processing, and interpretive software to enable the equipment to diagnose issues through observation and analyze solutions by interacting with its human counterparts. This is an innovative way to gain control over instruments in the field where human presence may be difficult or impossible to maintain.
The latest generation of instruments will be able to analyze the data, both quantitative and qualitative, that their sensing technologies collect.
Robots can assist humans in the field to analyze data and provide useful context by interpreting images and sounds. They can assist by moving equipment through plant processes, including the processing of samples, cleaning, transport, and maintenance.
In the laboratory, robots can perform basic operations such as cleaning, loading reagents and media into dispensers, or handling organic materials for chromatography.
For example, a robot could replace an operator who is needed at night to temporarily close an oven door while heat-baking sample tissues.
All laboratory automation used in the university setting should be very well-documented so that if the next administrator decides to cancel it, they will know what they’re taking away. Without documented control of lab automation, it may not be possible to dis-associate the equipment and real work requirements. The equipment may be left running (possible waste of energy, room space, and money) or removed from the facility altogether.
Benefits Of Laboratory Automation
1. Cost Efficient
Laboratory automation can reduce the cost of research by as much as 50% or more.
This is because robotic systems are used to perform tasks that would be inefficient by doing them by hand or with human assistance. The same equipment could be used to do these tasks repeatedly, thus allowing for lower cost utilization of lab personnel.
Labor costs are often a concern in research institutes. One of the ways that laboratory automation can help to reduce labor costs is to eliminate human involvement in tasks that are either expensive (e.g., media preparation) or tedious (e.g., handling samples). Laboratory automation will also streamline work and improve the safety of laboratory testing with microbiology lab supplies.
2. Productivity Gained
As automation allows researchers to perform repetitive tasks with less-skilled labor, it can increase productivity and research output and reduce errors made by underperforming workers. For example, if lab technicians work on media preparation, they may make mistakes that lead to inconsistent results. Automation can be used to assist technicians by recreating the media preparation steps on automatic, allowing them to focus their attention on other areas.
3. Improved Quality of Research
Laboratory automation can improve the quality of research through greater accuracy of measurements and analysis. For example, robotic equipment equipped with filters for chromatography can reduce the number of steps needed to prepare samples for testing.
Automation of cell culture processes improves laboratory quality control, reduces manual work, and increases productivity by minimizing errors associated with poor or uncertain human input. Automation also minimizes the risk associated with uncontrolled environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and light level.
4. Reduced Stress
According to researchers at the University of Utah, automation can contribute to reducing stress in laboratory workers. In addition to saving costs and increasing productivity, lab automation can help minimize job stress by reducing tedious tasks such as media preparation.
In conclusion, automation can reduce labor costs and improve research productivity, quality and accuracy. Lab automation can also reduce stress among lab staff by reducing tedious tasks. With this in mind, it is clear that lab automation has the potential to enhance our ability to perform research cost-effectively.
Photo from Pexels