Embracing Automation in the Laboratory
From the self-checkout at the local grocery store to self-driving vehicles, automation is all around us. From mere convenience tools to money savers to safety enhancers, it looks like automation is here to stay.
When it comes to the lab, automation has become indispensable. Imagine if you can, a lab without computers that manage, organize, and store what would otherwise be mountains of patient information. Think about the equipment that barcodes and labels thousands upon thousands of samples. And the high-throughput technology that allows hundreds or thousands of samples to be processed in the time it would take a single human to handle one sample.
Brief History of Laboratory Automation
The story of laboratory automation begins earlier than you may think. It goes way back to 1957 to the first automated lab instrument. The AutoAnalyzer, invented by Leonard Skeggs, PhD, and manufactured by Technicon Corporation, was the first instrument to allow for continuous flow analysis. It increased throughput to 20 samples at a time… a 20-fold improvement over handling them one at a time!1
The 1970s saw data and records management take a turn with the introduction of electronic data management via Laboratory Information (Management) Systems or LIS/LIMS. LIMS are used now to manage samples and their associated data and patient information.
Enter the 1980s and Total Laboratory Automation (TLA), brought to us by the “father of modern laboratory automation,” Masahide Sasaki MD, PhD. The Japanese doctor brought conveyor belts, circuit boards, and robots to the scene for the first automated lab.
It was Masahide’s promise of fewer errors, lower costs, and quick turnaround times at a 1989 lecture in Atlanta, GA, that started the gears in motion for the widespread process of automating labs in the West.2
Benefits of Laboratory Automation
On a very basic level, the main advantages of automation in the laboratory are fewer mishaps and more efficient processes. This benefits all parties involved: the lab owner, the staff, and most importantly, the patient.
But what does that really mean? Let’s take a closer look:
- Fewer mistakes means less need to repeat or rerun procedures or assays. The end result is increased productivity, less wasted materials, and happier patients. It can also mean more lives saved.
- Automated equipment can handle a heavier workload without the need for more staff, saving medical facilities and labs the expenses associated with additional hiring. It also frees up skilled employees for other things.
- By taking over some of the more mundane and repetitive tasks in the lab, automation reduces the occurrence of repetitive motion injuries and allows employees to use their skills for other tasks.3 We talked about repetitive motion injuries a few weeks ago (you can read that article here).
- In most situations, especially high-throughput processes, automation is faster than the same process would be if done manually. Faster results can save time, money, and lives.
- Automation can do things that humans just can’t… for example, they can work with smaller or miniaturized samples that would present a problem for human hands. Using smaller samples saves physical and monetary resources.
With increasing testing demands, automation will be a necessity for labs to remain competitive. Let PathSUPPLY help you keep up. Our HistoPro 414 Linear Stainer is a good place to start.
At PathSUPPLY, we’re helping those who help patients. Check out all our products at PathSUPPLY.com or give us a call at 1-800-631-3556 to find out how we can help you.