How Automating Laboratory Workflows Works

By Agilent Technologies

Problem: How can you add automation to your laboratory workflows in a way that is effective, efficient, and future proof?

Researchers automate their workflows with the intention of increasing efficiency, throughput, data reproducibility, and walkaway time. However, simply inserting automation into the workflow does not always guarantee the intended results. For example, a researcher may add a liquid handler in order to remove a specific bottleneck, such as low throughput due to existing manual serial dilution methods. However, it is important to keep in mind that while automation may remove a bottleneck in one stage of the process, it can create a new bottleneck at a different point in the process. For instance, as you automate sample preparation steps upstream, you may unintentionally introduce a bottleneck downstream where plates begin to accumulate as they wait to be analyzed by other laboratory researchers.

Another challenge is that automation software is not always intuitive or flexible, making it difficult for novice users to get started and for experienced users to adjust to changing assay requirements. As you add more automation to your laboratory, it also becomes necessary to coordinate the integration of instruments, many of which may be provided by separate suppliers. This becomes an issue when there is poor communication between devices or when third party instrument drivers are not readily available.

Solution: Focusing on integration-friendly, scalable automation solutions can help.

With regard to hardware, ease of integration with other instruments is critical because as time passes it is likely that you will add more steps and devices to your workflow. A liquid handler that features both a robotic arm and automated multispan pipetting capabilities in a single instrument makes it possible to remove multiple bottlenecks at once. For example, the Encore Multispan System uses a dual multispan liquid handling gantry that allows pipettors to move simultaneously in multiple directions across the instrument, thereby doubling liquid handling speed. Researchers can reap the full benefits of higher throughput as a potential second bottleneck is avoided with the Encore Multispan’s built-in robotic arm that reaches off-deck and allows prepared samples to be passed to other integrated instrumentation.

The Agilent Encore Multispan System combines multispan pipetting with the reach of a built-in robotic arm and intelligent software control to deliver a new level of productivity and throughput.

When considering software, it is an advantage to have an optimized automation package that allows you to visualize your workflows. This makes it easy to recreate manual processes that involve multiple tasks and instruments, in ways that are meaningful to all researchers and not just experienced automation engineers. Scalability and future needs are also important considerations when evaluating the software controlling the automation instrument. For example, the Encore Multispan Liquid Handling System’s software features innovative dynamic scheduling that enables researchers to adjust to varying sample numbers without rewriting protocols, saving precious time which can be spent analyzing your results.

One final consideration to take into account is that while many automation providers can help automate your existing workflows, it is more efficient in the long term to use a single provider that acts as a focused point of contact. By choosing a partner that has experience in robotics, liquid handling, software, and detection, you stand the best chance of effective, efficient, and future proof automation for all your applications.

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Categories: How it Works

Published In

Going Greener Magazine Issue Cover
Going Greener

Published: April 1, 2013

Cover Story

Going Greener

Equipment vendors continue making strides to reduce energy use and consumables.

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