For many scientists, the first foray into automation is a homegrown solution cobbled together with different components. The system may not be very efficient and may require jury-rigged parts, but it is customized to the scientists’ needs and gets the job done. Because the system is proprietary, the lab may have a dedicated person or team responsible for maintaining the system and fixing it when it breaks.
Unfortunately, homegrown systems don’t age well. Sometimes the only people who know how to maintain them leave the lab, or there is no ready replacement for custom-built parts that have failed. These purpose-built systems are sometimes abandoned when the lab’s needs evolve, and the legacy system can’t keep up. Examples of such situations include when throughput has to be increased significantly, more sophisticated algorithms must be deployed, or new robots are not backward compatible.
Whatever the reason, homegrown systems are in many cases eventually replaced with professionally designed lab automation systems. Swapping systems requires some planning and preparation. Since the Biosero team has replaced many homegrown systems, we’d like to offer some recommendations as you think about upgrading your legacy automation infrastructure.
- Re-examine the current system and consider your options. Does the system need to be updated immediately, or is there some wiggle room on timing? Replacing a legacy system can take weeks or months to plan, procure components, and build. It is important to ensure that scientists can keep running their experiments while the system is being upgraded, or at least minimize their downtime. In some cases, it may be possible to upgrade parts of the existing system as a temporary measure while thinking about new infrastructure.
- Consider the expense of maintaining the old system. Cost is always a consideration during conversations about updating systems. To make a compelling business case, it may be helpful to do a cost-benefit analysis of keeping the old system versus investing in a new one. Consider the costs of buying and implementing the new system versus keeping the old automation system healthy, and don’t forget the non-technical costs such as staff time for maintenance. Generally, the costs of supporting an obsolete system will dramatically increase over time. Newer systems can be designed for flexibility and future expansion, so they don’t suffer the same fate.
- Consider working with an automation vendor. At Biosero, we have decades of experience in building lab automation systems that meet our customers’ scope and specifications. We also have relationships with equipment developers and can advise customers on the best instruments for their needs. Once we’ve completed the build, we assign a service team to ensure that it is properly maintained and updated. Because we are responsible for the system, we make sure that our customers have access to spare parts and long-term maintenance support. We look at each project as a long-term partnership; our customer’s success is our success.
The costs of maintaining internally developed systems can be significant as they age. Running experimental assays on in-house systems built a decade ago reduces lab productivity and increases the risk of errors. Today’s automation systems are more energy-efficient and reliable than older versions. These systems address many operational and process challenges that scientists once faced, and they are more robust, flexible, and secure than their predecessors.
At Biosero, we know that not every laboratory is the same. We understand that every project will have some customization to make it the best solution for our customers. If your lab is considering implementing a laboratory automation solution or is replacing a legacy system, contact us to discuss your automation needs.