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Connectivity, Flexibility and Integration in the Automated Lab

A sketch depicting the idea of automation and connection in the lab.
Credit: iStock.
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Through automating processes and workflows, scientists and laboratories can optimize their time and concentrate on high-value tasks that yield greater productivity while ensuring accuracy and reproducibility. Across the life science fields, various components of experimental processes can now be automated, including aspects of single-cell analysis, next-generation sequencing (NGS), mass spectrometry and biopharmaceutical analysis.

At The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) 2023 international meeting, Technology Networks interviewed Lars Kristiansen, general manager of Agilent’s Automation Solutions Business. In our interview, we discussed Agilent’s automation portfolio that was showcased at the event, in addition to trends and challenges in automation.

Extending walkaway time

At SLAS 2023, Agilent launched its new NGS Bravo NGS Automated Liquid Handling Platform with On-Deck Thermal Cycler (ODTC), which enables thermal cycling as part of a high-throughput automated protocol. We asked Kristiansen how the new product can support scientists in improving their efficiency: “We’re introducing a new development on an already-established platform that addresses a key pain point for our customers: walk-away time. It sounds like a very simple change, but now that thermal cycling is on-deck, we can extend walkaway time by 250%. Scientists can now do more valuable research and experiments with that time,” he said. “The fact that we can combine our automation capabilities with our genomics kits and products is fantastic and spans applications such as genome-editing, cancer research, etc.”

Another recent launch from Agilent showcased at SLAS was the AssayMAP Bravo Protein Sample Prep Workbench 4.0. The platform combines precision liquid flow control, microchromatography cartridges with diverse resin chemistries and novel software to “bring the power of chromatography to sample preparation”. Its optional compliance-enabling features enable automated sample preparation workflows to be transferred from noncompliant to compliant labs. “This product is biopharma, proteomics, peptides-focused compared to the NGS Bravo, but it’s another beautiful example of how Agilent can continue to evolve with our customers on their multi-omics journey.”

A clear take-home from SLAS 2023 was that, as we work towards the lab of the future, we will see even more automated solutions enter the typical scientists’ workflow. How we integrate those solutions will be pivotal for ensuring their accessibility for a wide variety of scientists. The key to this integration will be collaboration and partnership, as Kristiansen described: “Stitching components together in a laboratory doesn’t create a customer-friendly workflow, so a key consideration here at Agilent is the use of software and lab orchestration. Internally we have a large software and informatics group, but we also look more widely at the industry and ask: who are the partners that we need to start working closely with to ensure that we can offer end-to-end custom automation solutions for our customers?”

The future of automation

Another key trend at SLAS 2023 was how automation workflows, the lab of the future concept and sustainability can be married together. Technology Networks asked Kristiansen how Agilent is considering sustainability in the development of new products and its overall practices. “Sustainability has always been a focus for Agilent. As well as investing in many renewable energy initiatives at our sites and facilities, we have a strong partnership with organizations such as My Green Lab, so it[sustainability] is pretty much within the DNA of Agilent. Discussing sustainability within automation specifically, we have ongoing projects surrounding our automation consumables and exploring how to increase our My Green Lab ACT (Accountability, Consistency and Transparency) accreditations on our instrument portfolio.”

In 2021, Agilent also announced its commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050, which Kristiansen emphasized.

While automated solutions continue to develop, key challenges remain in their design and implementation. According to Kristiansen, the three greatest barriers are:

  1. Interconnectivity and workflow orchestration – ensuring that researchers can manage their laboratory from different places, extract data, mine it and share it across platforms and laboratories.

  2. Developing partnerships within the industry – creating an ecosystem so that researchers can run the best possible experiments on their preferred platforms.

  3. Flexibility – ensuring that each scientists’ unique needs can be served through automation workflows and models. 


Lars Kristiansen, general manager of Agilent’s Automation Solutions Business was speaking to Molly Campbell, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks at SLAS 2023.