Making the move from manual to automated process in the lab can be a daunting process. There are many choices to be made and it can be hard to be certain that the selected solution delivers everything you hoped for. Does it deliver on throughput, ease-of-use, data quality, cost of operation etc. In other words, are you getting the return on investment (ROI) that you expected?
In this on-demand SelectScience® webinar, lab automation expert Dean Mulyk, from Thermo Fisher Scientific, discusses how to define your expected ROI and how to specify, implement and use automation to achieve it.
You can watch the webinar on demand by registering here. Read on to discover Q&A highlights from the live event
SS: What are the most common mistakes people make when automating?
DM: It varies by systems and by user experience. In the first case, I'd say the most common mistake is not asking enough questions, not understanding the impact of what you're doing and communication. Make sure that when you're talking to a vendor, communicate with them. Build that partnership. As you're building that partnership, then you're going to understand what you need from it and be able to articulate it. Again, that comes back to the bigger picture. Know where the process and those processes you want to automate fit into that big picture. It’s very important to get the right automation upfront.
SS: What are you at Thermo Fisher Scientific doing to help customers get the best ROI?
DM: When we're working with our customers, our core value for the lab automation business unit is trying to focus on the best solutions for ease-of-use to enable our customers. What we want is, when you get your automation system that you're able to use it right away and we want it to be intuitive and easy to use. That's why if you have a look at the products that we've built —like the Spinnaker where you have machine vision for teaching and healing — we're changing our focus, so you don't need to be an automation engineer. The goal is that, as a technician, I can use it because it's simple and easy.
When we built the Spinnaker, for example, one of the things that we did with the machine vision is, we had grade four, five and six kids come in and teach it because it was a collaborative robot. They can understand how to work with it. And likewise, it lends to the software too. It's very easy for someone to come up, turn on the system, add their work to it and be able to carry out what they want to do. We’re making automation accessible in much the same way that technology, in general, has become more accessible in recent years.
SS: If we're new to automation, should we start with an island? An archipelago or a continent?
DM: This is entirely dependent on what processes you’re trying to do. If, for example, you have a quantitative PCR machine, it takes two hours to run each process. I can only really run five plates during the day due to the technician’s working time. In that case, starting with a small system and being able to work bigger works well. If you have a larger process that you want to do — let's say not only do you want to do the quantitative PCR, you want to do some plate prep too — then you might want to start expanding out your system. It becomes a case of reaching out, talking to the vendors, getting an idea as to what that scalability and flexibility is and to understand how you might be able to take one system and add to it, to expand it. You may be able to take your little benchtop system or your qPCR machine into the robot and then start to add additional process instruments. It also becomes a case of knowing where your institution wants to go in time, and how they want to get there. What their plan is. Their five-year roadmap.
SS: Have you got any recommendations on overcoming reluctance to use the automation system over the manual, once the system is in place?
DM: It's just like riding a bicycle at first or doing something for the first time. You're going to fear it unless you go and use it. That innate sort of fear or resistance is not going to get you anywhere. I always recommend to users, as soon as you get your system, even if it's something as simple as moving a microplate from one of the storage devices through a dispenser to dispense a little bit of water, to start building and start playing with systems. Take advantage of the integrator. When the integrator is on site, they're there to help you. We're there to make sure that you understand and use your system. It's just like any other tool. If you expect that you're going to sit down and become an expert first time out, you're not. If you sat in front of a metal lathe, you're not going to be able to use it right away. You're going to play with it. Same thing as at home when you try out a new recipe — you're going to try it, you're going to tweak it. It's that whole hands-on thing. Start using your system right away. Take advantage of the training.
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