If you ask a group of scientists what it means to have an automated lab, you’ll likely get a variety of responses. That’s because the term “automation” is relative to scientists. Like most instances in life, our emotions (and how much joy or pain we experience) affect how strongly we prefer certain things. If I were in the middle of pipetting a 96-well plate, I’d likely say automation could be realized with an electronic repeater pipette. However, if I were in the middle of performing chemical inventory, I’d probably say that a digital chemical inventory management system is the epitome of an automated lab. Further still, as I cut and paste data figures and charts into a paper notebook, I might tell you that an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) would signify that a lab is automated. An automated lab could have all of these digital solutions or just one, depending on the lab’s needs. At the end of the day though, what sets an automated lab apart from traditional labs is the utility of digital options to improve the efficiency of standard workflows.
If you’re interested in implementing an automated lab, consider these steps to help make the process simpler and better meet your needs:
Choose your automation
Even though that snazzy dishwasher would cut out some of the grunt work in the lab, consider if it will really help your lab operate more efficiently. If you’re washing hundreds of test tubes a day it might actually help users reallocate time to more scientific workflows. However, avoid selecting automation options based on the coolness factor or because of a good sales pitch. Instead, consider the bottlenecks in your lab and if a digital option can improve throughput and, ultimately, your bottom line. For example, an ELN frees up lab members to spend more time on projects by streamlining data generation, recording and presentation. An ELN doesn’t benefit just a few lab members; rather, it improves efficiency for all users regardless of laboratory roles.
Get behind the choice
An important factor affecting the success of an automated lab is management’s support of the implementation. Managers should have a vision for how they want their lab to operate and wholly support the changes. Furthermore, managers should develop an implementation protocol as well as standardized protocols for new automated workflows. Confusing new policies and procedures can make user adoption of the new system slow.
Evaluate the implementation
As with any system, it is important to evaluate the processes of an automated lab. Rather than just assuming that a new system is functioning well, develop an assessment to determine if your lab is realizing gains in efficiency. If you’re not, determine what could be holding you back. For example, are users well trained and able to fully utilize the functions of the system? Or perhaps your automated workflows are creating new bottlenecks due to increased efficiency at one end of the process? Most importantly, be open to change and willing to adapt to address new problems.
Typically, most labs are not run as efficiently as possible. Of course, comprehensive management oversight and evaluations can keep labs running smoothly, but some digital options simply cannot be mimicked in terms of realizing greater efficiency. ELNs and digital chemical inventory management systems are examples of digital solutions that can truly create an automated lab. Visit our website today to learn more about the BIOVIA Notebook and BIOVIA CISPro.