Automated labs are delivering high-quality results in a more cost-effective, efficient way
The laboratory environment is made up of a complex array of equipment, from the basic pipette to fume hoods. In recent years, we have seen new digital technology slowly being assimilated into the laboratory, and automation is perhaps the most revolutionary. Automation is equipment that can operate with minimal human interference designed to reduce the repetitive aspects of laboratory work. Automation comes in various forms: laboratory information management systems (LIMS), laboratory execution systems (LES) and collaborative bots (Co-Bots), among others.
Considering the benefits automation brings, it is not surprising that it is becoming a key component of the wider move to connect the laboratory environment. After all, laboratories are highly standardized environments, designed to ensure replicability, traceability and accuracy of research data. Now, automation in the laboratory environment can give the scientist greater control over their instruments to drive up standards and quicken the experimental process.
Here are three benefits of laboratory automation:
1. Reduce the risk of human error
Firstly, automation substantially reduces the risk of human error in the laboratory; repetitive tasks that used to fall into the domain of the scientist are carried out with ease by automated solutions. Previously, when conducting an experiment, you would have to manually record all machine outputs, a repetitive task which took a lot of time and effort to complete properly.
Now, with autonomous equipment, output data from machines can be streamed directly into a scientist’s electronic laboratory notebook, minimizing the risk of human error that comes from scientists manually recording machine data. Automation provides a solution to the error risk problems we have all encountered in the experimental process, plus it removes the repetitive aspects of experiments, which will allow you to spend less time on mundane tasks and more time on pressing benchwork.
2. Unify laboratory devices
Automation also facilitates opportunities to connect up lab processes. Without automation, laboratory devices are fragmented – a collective of isolated solutions. The problem with this is that it does not translate into effective, productive laboratory practices and does not maximize equipment or researcher potential. By implementing an autonomous system into the laboratory, you are able to control devices remotely, which offers a more flexible approach to conducting research. You will no longer have to conduct an experiment at a certain time just because it is in your working hours. You can control your devices anytime and anywhere with internet connectivity and receive real-time updates on the progress of your experiment from your mobile device.
3. Maximize all data generated
Easier collection of existing data is not the only benefit that comes from having an autonomous laboratory; there are also the benefits that arise from the extra data which can be generated. Machines do not just retain experimental data and results; they also have the potential to collect data pertaining to usability or optimal conditions. This goldmine of data is not typically tapped into and harnessed, simply due to the time it would take to record all of this extra data manually. However, forms of automation would allow you to easily access this hidden data and stream it onto an online format so you can use it to make crucial decisions on machine placement and conditions for an experiment.
Automation, however, usually has a big price tag attached and unfortunately, this has prevented some laboratories (most often academic research laboratories) from implementing this technology. To fully connect the laboratory environment, some researchers look to update all equipment, but often budgets restrict the level of implementation leaving scientists with a hybrid system: connected, but not entirely. A cost-effective solution to this problem is the LES, a system that allows you to automate existing machines and connect them to the internet, which allows you to have the perks of automation without the associated astronomical costs.
It is important to always be aware of new technologies which are being created to make scientists’ lives easier. In the case of automation, these advancements can improve the overall effectiveness of the laboratory which can translate into an increase in scientific progress that is simply too good to pass on.
Phoebe Chubb is a digital marketer at Labforward