Who's Investing in Lab Automation and Why

Results of our first Lab Automation Survey reveal both pros and cons of automating lab processes

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In March of this year we surveyed our readers to find out how automated their labs were, what the benefits of automation were, what processes were being automated and what they were planning to automate in the future. Looking at the survey results, it is clear that the main purpose of automation is to increase sample throughput, improve the consistency and reliability of procedure execution, and improve data quality. Responses also revealed that the top three reasons for automating systems in the future were to upgrade or replace existing systems, increase sample throughput and eliminate repetitive tasks.

Despite the benefits of automation and the fact that most surveyed were satisfied with their automated systems, the majority of respondents said that they had no plans to purchase automation equipment in the near future. In addition, a significant portion of respondents said that they worked in labs that used strictly manual procedures.

Which of the following areas are automated in your lab?

Instrument Data Collection & Analysis 25%
Sample Processing 13%
Sample Management 11%
Sample Preparation 10%
Procedure Execution 7%
Sample Storage/Retrieval 6%
Inventory 5%
Sample Library 4%
None 16%
Other 2%

Specifically, 16% of respondents said they had no automation whatsoever in their labs. For those with automated systems, the top three automated processes were: instrument data collection and analysis at 25%, sample processing at 13%, and sample management at 11%. Processes that were least automated included sample library, inventory, and sample storage and retrieval at 4, 5 and 6%, respectively.

Why automate?

Moving on to the reasons for automation, 25% of respondents said they had automated their labs in order to increase sample throughput, while 16% said that automation was intended to improve the consistency and reliability of procedure execution, and 13% highlighted improving data quality as the major reason for automating their facilities.

Please choose the primary purpose for automation in your lab.

Increasing sample throughput 25%
Improve the consistency/reliability of procedure execution 16%
Improved data quality 13%
Data Recording 11%
Improving ability to search / recover lab reports / information 9%
Eliminate repetitive tasks 7%
Avoid the need for increasing head count in the future 5%
Improve our ability to meet regulatory requirements 5%
Improving laboratory administration 4%
Reduce head count 2%
Increased sophistication of experimental techniques 2%
Intellectual Property Management 1%
Other 1%

While some might be worried that automation would reduce the need for laboratory staff, only 2% of respondents said reducing head count was their main reason for automating their processes. Intellectual property management was another insignificant reason for automation, with only 1% of those surveyed choosing it.

Future plans

The majority of those surveyed—54%—said they had no plans to purchase lab automation equipment in the near future, while more, and 11% were only beginning to review automated equipment. However, most of those planning to purchase lab automation equipment soon were not new to the process, with 51% saying this was not their first lab automation purchase. First-time buyers represented 39% of respondents.

Of those planning to automate their labs, 18% said their primary reason was to upgrade or replace existing systems, 14% said it was to increase sample throughput, and 11% sought to reduce repetitive tasks in their labs. The least important reason for automation was because of “increased sophistication of experimental techniques,” with only 2% choosing that as their main reason. Nearly as unimportant was reducing head count, with only 3% reporting that as a reason for automating their labs.

Cost of automation

Ease and cost of implementation as well as training lab employees were shown to be the three most important factors in respondents’ decisions to automate their labs, as they rated those factors at 98%, 96% and 96%, respectively.

Lack of funding was the top reason most of the survey participants were not planning to purchase new automation equipment, with 46% identifying funding as the biggest roadblock to implementing lab automation in their facilities. Product and technology evaluation/selection was a distant second, with only 11% saying that was their biggest challenge. Eight percent reported that selling the benefits of lab automation to upper management was their greatest challenge.

Budgets for those future lab automation purchases were split fairly evenly, with 22% falling in the $50,000 to $100,000 range, 20% filling the $100,000+ category, another 20% in the $25,000 to $50,000 range, 19% in the $10,000 to $25,000 range, and the final 19% with less than $10,000 to spend for their purchase.

How satisfied are you with the automation process in your lab?

Very Happy 14%
Happy 23%
Satisfied 46%
Not Happy 15%
Very Unhappy 2%

Is it worth it?

As far as satisfaction with lab automation goes, the survey revealed that the majority of the 384 respondents were pleased with the automation in their labs, with 46% saying they were satisfied with their automated systems, 23% revealing they were happy, and 14% saying they were very happy with their lab automation systems. However, a fair portion of respondents— 15%—said they were not happy with the process and 2% reported being very unhappy.

Categories: Surveys

Published In

What Motivates Your Employees Magazine Issue Cover
What Motivates Your Employees

Published: September 9, 2011

Cover Story

What Motivates Your Employees?

It is ever more difficult to argue that motivating knowledge workers is not the Holy Grail for 21st century lab managers. “Leadership,” according to management consultants, “is the process of motivating people to work together to accomplish great things."