Automation in the Lab: What to Consider

February 1, 2019
Amber Lowry

BioPharm International

Volume 32, Issue 2

Page Number: 34

BioPharm International spoke with Stuart Ward, head of Business Analysis at IDBS, about what needs to be considered when integrating automation solutions into lab workflows for operational tasks.

BioPharm International spoke with Stuart Ward, head of Business Analysis at IDBS, about what needs to be considered when integrating automation solutions into lab workflows for operational tasks.

BioPharm: What makes automation suitable for operational tasks in the lab? Why automate these tasks?

Ward: Operational tasks generally underpin all other activities in the lab. For example, an operational task such as equipment calibration is required to determine that an instrument is correctly working within its limits and the data the instrument is producing are accurate and can be used to ultimately make business decisions. Labs often need to keep records of completed operational tasks and, in many cases, reference this information. Therefore, having the process followed and the outcome documented in an electronic system will make access to these data easier. In addition, using an electronic system to capture and analyze the results from an operational task will improve data integrity since there will be fewer manual manipulations required.

BioPharm: Are there any financial disadvantages or risks to automating certain lab tasks?

Ward: Often, lab tasks can be performed using old equipment which may not be compatible for automation. In this case, organizations need to determine if the replacing of equipment is necessary depending on the return on investment that can be achieved through the use of the new equipment and automation. If the tasks to be performed are not well defined, the effort required to automate the process may be considerable and the ongoing effort by lab personal to keep the process running may also be high, which could lead to inefficiencies and scientists questioning their role within the lab. Therefore, careful change management is required when implementing automation within a lab environment, including an understanding of how the current laboratory personnel fit into the new processes.

BioPharm: What is the most important consideration when looking to integrate automated solutions into lab workflows?

Ward: When looking to integrate automated solutions into laboratory workflows, it is important to understand the current processes, including the variations that occur and how the current laboratory tasks fit into other laboratory and/or organizational processes. Once this is known, identify the current bottlenecks and determine how automation may help alleviate these and also benefit other parts of the organization. 

In many cases, the bottlenecks are around how data are reported on and flows through an organization. Therefore, having an electronic data management solution in place, such as an electronic laboratory notebook to capture the data, is likely to provide significant benefits to the organization by speeding up reporting and reducing the data flow bottlenecks.

Article Details

BioPharm International
Vol. 32, No. 2
February 2019
Page: 34

Citation

When referring to this article, please cite it as A. Lowry, “Automation in the Lab: What to Consider," BioPharm International 32 (2) 2019.

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