The laboratory automation field is constantly evolving. At the macro level, one significant trend that we see at Biosero is that customers are starting to apply laboratory automation much earlier in the development process. It used to be that labs developed assays for their experiments and then automated them. Now customers are using automation as part of the process to develop their assays, which helps solve the problem of scaling those assays down the road.
Many labs now recognize the value-add of bringing automation to bear on their projects much earlier. And they are using it in different ways. It’s not necessarily the traditional high-throughput automation with enormous robots. Scientists are now seamlessly combining manual processes and robotic automation, evolving to meet lab needs quickly. This approach makes laboratory tools readily available and allows immediate utilization, permitting automation where ever possible. Adaption of automation tools can happen swiftly and without any programming, resulting in easy process changes and a seamless connection to their instruments.
Another trend that we are seeing is applying automation to much longer and far more complex processes. Some of this trend is driven by next-generation sequencing processes. For example, instead of having 400 plates to run that have to go through 10 experimental steps, some labs have to run just four plates but perform 150 steps. These long, complicated workflows with low volume and high complexity require a different way of designing and managing experiments with automation. They also perform best when users can design and test while experiments run in real-time, making adaptations on the fly.
Core labs have inspired another interesting trend. Traditionally, core labs in large pharmaceutical companies would limit the experiments that scientists could run on big automation platforms. Because of the resourcing required to add a new experiment to these large platforms, Scientists could only perform a limited set of assays using specific plate formats. Now, we see a need from researchers to run smaller batches of plates. For core labs to perform high-mix, low-volume work, they need greater flexibility in their software and hardware. Core labs are making this possible by implementing more flexible automation solutions to match their customers’ needs, allowing for real-time integration of new requests.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven change in automation as well. Social distancing requirements mean fewer people could work at the bench, which made automation necessary for many labs. It effectively demonstrated that labs could still maintain productivity even if scientists were not physically present.
The work we do at Biosero supports our customers as the automation landscape shifts. Our mobile robots not only load samples into instruments but also move them through hallways and on elevators, ensuring samples and reagents get wherever they are needed. Our lab experience applications help customers track the data generated from manual or automated lab processes, apply error reduction, and improve the reliability and repeatability of experiments. Our easy-to-use graphical interfaces can guide manual processes to provide a seamless ecosystem for data collection. Focusing on science-centric solutions and understanding that research needs can change quickly ensures that our customers have the right tools to succeed in their research.