When it’s time to automate lab activities, the fact is that you can approach it from many angles.
- In-house automation engineering or outside help?
- Homebrew development of solutions or off-the-shelf products?
- Automate some or all of the workflow?
- Manually gather data or automatically collect data through digitization?
But there’s one big choice you need to make early on, even before all of those considerations: what kind of relationships do you want to have with companies outside your own organization?
It’s critical to ask this because every lab automation project is going to involve companies outside your own: companies that build devices, code software, manufacture consumables, or integrate automation solutions. The lab never gets automated top-to-bottom, single-source from products developed inside one lab.
When we look at the relationship between the lab and these businesses, we see it as a binary that every lab should keep in mind.
- These businesses are focused on individual transactions
- The lab works with the business to purchase a product, and the relationship is basically complete until another transaction is needed
- The other company is not considered part of your team, but a provider of an asset or tool
- These businesses are focused on the long-term relationship and adding value over time
- The lab works with the business on an initial product or project purchase, and the relationship continues consultatively over time
- The company is considered part of your team, working with you to continue improving your product or project over time
There is nothing wrong with having vendors! Some things in the lab can be done well transactionally, like picking up a standalone device or ordering labware.
But when it comes time to integrating products from many vendors into large, streamlined solutions, you should consider picking a partner, someone that understands your long-term goals.
Exploring what an automation partner looks like
It’s important to talk about what an automation partnership should look like because not everyone has experienced it.
We all know what a vendor relationship is like: you order a product and it either shows up a week later at the office in a shipping box or you turn on the cloud-based software solution and start using it. Or maybe, you pay a freelancer to come in for a single job, and the relationship ends after the job is complete.
In contrast, the partner relationship looks like this:
- The lab and the partner have exploratory conversations about goals, needs, and what’s already on site.
- The partner proposes solutions to meet the need and an actionable plan is hashed out.
- The partner works with the lab to implement the solution.
- The solution is launched.
- The lab and the partner continue to together, repeating steps 1-4 in the process.
- Optimize the workflow to meet new goals
- Integrate a new device to add functionality
- Swap out a device to adapt to a new area of research
- Get the next project started
The benefits of integrating with a partner
The fact is that lab automation using vendors will work. Order all the devices yourself and put them together. Or you could hire a team to do a one-time job that ends after the launch of the solution. It can be done.
But lab automation as a discipline is never a one-and-done kind of thing. As soon as a solution launches, someone on the team needs a change. And no solution is truly “complete” while the industry continues to invent new tools and make scientific advances that produces better and faster discoveries.
Having a partner to support your lab automation has some serious pros.
- You get ongoing, skilled automation support: Partnering ensures that your lab has real-time access to training, tech support, and system upkeep.
- You get an outside team who is committed to the work: When you partner, your lab always has a dedicated team of experts invested in building and improving their automation capabilities as scientists’ needs evolve. Frequently, when a lab tackles their own lab automation, struggles start to happen when a team member with all the knowledge leaves. You insulate yourself and your team from change by having a dedicated partner to commit to the goals of the lab.
- You gain access to a team with in-depth knowledge about lab automation AND your lab: Automation engineers have time to build a deep understanding of the lab’s infrastructure and how scientists work. They understand the systems so well that they can offer suggestions for equipment upgrades or additions to existing instrumentation. It’s like having a team of doctors with an intimate knowledge of all your health issues and genetic code that allows them to provide you quality healthcare.
- You have help in making sure that products from different vendors work together smoothly: Lab automation projects often involve significant customizations to ensure that instruments, software, and robots work together. Ensuring that all components will be interoperable and will function as intended is an intensive task that most scientists would not want to handle themselves.
- You don’t have to feel pressured to build an internal automation support team: If your automation partner employs automation engineers, software engineers, application scientists, service engineers, project managers, and other experts, they can help you bring important perspectives and skills to the table. Each team member performs unique tasks that are essential to the success of an installation, and you don’t have to replicate this on your own team to see the benefits.
A real-world example
It’s no secret that the team at Biosero is an automation partner to the labs we work with. From the moment our account manager talks to your team, we are working to show you that we’ll be here for the project and beyond.
And the key part of that methodology is recognizing that the lab is the expert on the assay and how they run in the lab. We work closely up front with scientists to get an accurate picture of their current infrastructure, the kinds of experiments that need to run, and what the gaps are.
Once we understand the lab’s system and needs, we work with them to choose software, suggest instruments and robots that improve their workflows, and structure their assays to work with automation. Plus, our team has deep experience in installing automation for different kinds of experimental setups and instruments, so we can come up with an implementation plan and timeframe that minimizes disruptions to lab work.
An example of a lab that collaborates with Biosero in this style is Roche.
When we connected with Roche in 2021, their scientists were reevaluating the assorted software and devices they used in the lab and thinking about what their ideal system would look like. Their system was fragmented and needed updating. They wanted a flexible, scalable system that could support their current and future needs. That meant investing in solutions for integrating assay workflows and for orchestrating and scheduling batches of experiments.
We worked collaboratively with Roche on a comprehensive plan to update their lead discovery group’s infrastructure.
Together we strategized about the best combination of capabilities to support Roche’s assay development, screening, and profiling activities. We also assigned roles and responsibilities for the members of each team based on their areas of expertise. Finally, the teams at both companies mapped out a timeline for implementing the new infrastructure that limited downtime in the lab.
Our companies are equally committed to the partnership’s success and willing to invest in the project management and team conversations that help us achieve it.
The wrap up
Almost every integration project involves a big investment of money and time, and there’s no reason to go through the journey of automating your science alone with so much at stake. You can pick partners who will help you hit your goals now and in the future.
If you want to learn more about Biosero:
- Follow us on LinkedIn. We’re talking about this topic and other lab automation ideas every day.
- Check out Green Button Go Orchestrator. Our lab automation solutions are designed from the ground up to run in Green Button Go, a software suite designed by a team of software developers and automation engineers trying to do lab auto better.