Discover the future with Lab Automation
Reading time approx: 4 min
Reading time approx: 4 min
In the world of laboratories, automation is set to be the pathway of the future. With the ever increasing power of technology, tasks that were once limited to very specialized technicians can now be handled with precision by all kinds of systems. Robots can handle the complexities of the field with unmatched accuracy, exceeding the workflow of a normal human being. This does not mean that the laboratory of the future is purely staffed by robots or that an AI is pulling the strings like HAL 9000. It is instead looking like a symbiosis will grow between man and machine, where humans and robots are cooperating to achieve incredible results, enhancing each other in ways that are yet to be seen. In this blogpost we’ll go over the different ways that laboratories stand to gain from automation. But before that’s done, a quick dip in the concept of automation might come in handy.
Automation is making certain actions or processes automatic, meaning that an operator is, in principle, no longer involved. This is different from the concept of mechanization, where machines are employed to take over tasks traditionally done via man- or horsepower, however an operator would still be in control. For example, an anchor needs to be pulled up from the water. In the past this would be done by a group of people. With mechanization came machines which could take on the workload, but a ‘pilot’ would still need to be there in order to give directions to the machines. With automation, the need for the operator vanishes, entailing a completely new paradigm.
This new way of the world has profound effects on laboratories. While raw strength is not often employed in a laboratory, precision and reproducibility are extremely important in order to make it function in a healthy manner. Working with materials on the molecular level requires accuracy in a very large degree. There is no room for mistakes as even the tiniest slip up can cause grave consequences. For instance, if one mixes the ingredients but accidentally uses too much of one, the entire batch has effectively been rendered useless, wasting precious resources. Precision and reproducibility ensure that right amounts are added each time, every time. Consequently, this results in an optimization of the production process as a whole, allowing laboratories to create without hiccups.
Safety of employees is also a big benefit that automated processes bring. This factors in more when hazardous materials are worked with. A robot does not possess a psyche and cannot be negatively impacted by the stress of working with potential danger, which could result in accidents. Its speed and workflow will be the same, regardless of the substance involved, while a regular employee will take the time to avoid the potential for injuries. Even though this is completely justified and employee safety should be a top priority, it is still time that is gone. By letting a robot handle the danger, that time is being spent as efficiently as possible. In the meantime employees are taken out of perilous positions, reducing work induced stress and increasing satisfaction.
Something that has been hinted at so far is the optimization of processes within the laboratory. This increase in efficiency is a major positive for laboratories looking to be one step ahead. In today’s global market time is everything, bringing with it constant waves of pressure, forcing the participants to either adapt or perish. Time must therefore be utilized as wisely and productively as possible. With automated enhancements brought into the laboratory this can now be realized. Certain products in the field of laboratory automation are made to operate every day without break, seven days a week. Dependence on the energy levels of employees, or finding those with the willingness to work overtime or a night shift is a thing of the past. A robot does not get tired and does not have an off day, it will operate with maximum efficiency, unconstrained by factors that limit humans. Laboratories are now able to tap into revenue full time, all the time.
So, tying all these things up together, how does automation positively impact the laboratory? First of all it safeguards the scientific method, which requires conditions that are repeatable, by making perfect reproducibility possible. This also comes with a new level of precision that cannot be matched by the technician working in the laboratory. The right steps are taken every time, with the accuracy necessary to achieve the required results. Resources are no longer lost with a robot doing the job, since the element of human error is not a factor of risk that could disturb the process anymore. This in turn releases employees from the more menial tasks within the laboratory, freeing them up to do more research and development.
In more delicate cases, the element of danger gets removed from the working environment, which will bring positive effects on the employees which will in turn boost their performance. However, while they still get tired, automated systems do not. By automating the laboratory, time can be used in the most efficient way possible. Whether it’s production, analysis or preparation, automation enables laboratories to run 24/7. This translates into a steady and constant stream of income, resulting from unceasing activity, while at the same time decreasing costs by enhancing the quality of the time that is used. Efficiency is and continues to be one of the most important ideas one must contend with in the economy of today, if one wants their respective business to be lucrative. By engaging with automated solutions, laboratories don’t just make efficiency a core part of their workflow, they become synonymous with it.
The future is right around the corner, those laboratories that are opting for automating much of their activities will be the first to round it. By adopting the robotic into the repertoire of laboratories, immense gains will be made that benefit all of us. Alsys International intends to do its part in realizing this bright future.