When scientists invest in automated solutions for their lab, they would rather spend time on research and discovery, not learning to integrate and use those systems. And as new technologies and discoveries come to market faster and faster, a quality laboratory orchestration engine is essential to keeping up with that pace.
Defining lab orchestration
Lab orchestration is an approach to managing labor in the lab that allows for all tasks, both manual and automated, to be driven and documented in a unified way. By bringing together manual and automated work, labs are in a position to look at data on their entire lab’s productivity and work to optimize it as if the lab was a business. Historically, it’s been challenging to ensure that devices communicate and nearly impossible to run productivity analysis on activities that aren’t automated together.
The labor of modern-day science is conducted on a full spectrum that is impacted by the budget of the lab and the lab’s philosophies on optimizing their research time. In academic labs, for example, it’s common for scientists to carry the manual load of research by hand pipetting and moving samples between devices as needed. Other labs, like the ones that develop new cures for terrible diseases, often choose to automate parts or all of their discovery process to speed things up.
Lab orchestration brings together everything from manual labor to semi-automated work to fully automated work. In lab orchestration, the lab plans, schedules, executes, and optimizes the entire lab in a unified portal that both drives activity and collects data on manual and automated tasks. Simply put, you can think of lab orchestration like a conductor directing an orchestra, ensuring that each instrument comes in at the right time and in the correct sequence to make beautiful music.
At its core, orchestration is all about making scientists’ jobs easier and accelerating science in the lab. Achieving those outcomes requires more than just controlling instruments and capturing results: it involves carefully harmonizing processes, data, people, tasks, instrumentation, consumables, and business rules. Here are just some of the jobs that an orchestration solution has to manage:
- Orchestration of physical and digital materials: There is a constant flow of data, people, and samples in the lab that has to be monitored and directed throughout the different workflows and experiments.
- Orchestration of consumables: This covers the movement of all single-use components including plastic labware, sample plates, pipette tips, reagents, cell lines, and more.
- Orchestration of personnel: Staff need to know when they have to be at a certain workstation or bench and what they should be doing once they get there. All of this can be planned and managed by orchestration software.
- Orchestration of data: Lab experiments generate different kinds of data — and lots of it. Lab orchestrators capture all of the data generated during experiments in real-time as well as process data, including details like incubator temperature, how long samples sat outside after removal from the incubator, and which consumables were used.
Ultimately, the purpose of an orchestrated lab is to plan and execute workflows, transport samples in harmony, bring in tracking for any manual lab tasks, provide real time monitoring of instrumentation, and collect all this data into one portal for contextualization and any further analysis.
Orchestration essentially provides labs with the ability to run 24/7, gives scientists more time back, creates more flexibility to interchange devices and components, and more.
What is the impact of lab orchestration?
Many scientists rely on lab orchestration tools because they do the job of streamlining work in the lab. Importantly, they support automation on a much larger scale so that scientists can leverage the benefits of automation across their entire lab or campus.
Here’s what a sample lab workflow might look without orchestration:
- Imagine scientists running an ELISA experiment in the lab. They might use an automated liquid handler to aspirate and dispense fluids, as well as ELISA washers and readers. Getting those other systems integrated with the liquid handler is challenging. And scientists may have to handle some tasks manually.
Now, here’s the same ELISA workflow with orchestration:
- An orchestration solution has connection points for the liquid handler, washer, and reader so that they work as a single system. Scientists control each instrument in the system from one interface and they have a great deal of flexibility in how they organize them. It’s also easier to plug in new equipment like robotic arms or electronic laboratory notebooks and get them working in tandem with the other instruments. The few remaining tasks that are done manually can be digitized by an interface that sends the data into the same portal as the automated tasks.
How does lab orchestration differ from scheduling?
In lab automation, scientists sometimes use the terms “orchestration” and “scheduling” interchangeably, but they are not the same. Scheduling software is an important component of lab orchestration. Its job is to get different lab equipment to work together and coordinate their activities from a single point in the lab.
Here are just some of the things schedulers excel at:
- Connecting multiple standalone automation workstations stations
- Handling manual and semi-automated tasks in the same ecosystem
- Capturing important metadata about automated activity in the lab
- Monitoring individual experiments in real time
Lab orchestrators operate at a higher level, overseeing entire workflows or even laboratories. They use scheduling software to perform the tasks above but offer many more tools and capabilities to maximize the benefit of automation.
What are the benefits of lab orchestration?
With a lab orchestrator tool to choreograph workflows, scientists can focus on what’s most important: designing the next experiment, interpreting data, and making the next big discovery.
Here are some other ways that lab orchestration can help:
- Orchestration protects data and sample integrity throughout the workflow, increasing the reliability and reproducibility of the results.
- Orchestration bridges the digital gap between systems, supporting complex integrations involving multiple workstations, transportation systems, and robots.
- Orchestration reduces the risk of human error and catches mistakes so operators can correct them.
- Orchestration manages consumables and reagents efficiently to reduce lab waste.
Ultimately, lab orchestration isn’t about buying new software. It’s about a new approach to lab automation.
- Instead of taking a piecemeal approach with every piece of software that comes programmed on a device, it’s about having a reliable tool that communicates with all devices and coordinates transportation among them automatically.
- Instead of operating different parts of a workflow at different stations, it’s about end-to-end workflows that unbox patient samples and deliver back results in one seamless solution.
- Instead of guessing metrics on device productivity and bottlenecks, it’s about having a tool that tracks this information passively and reports to you on a regular basis.
- Instead of assuming an instrument went down because of an error, it’s about knowing that the lab’s compressed air supply was shut down for maintenance.
- Instead of managing one cluster of workstations in one lab, it’s about tracking all workstations across every lab in your organization for efficiency and performance.
- Instead of ignoring the manual processes because they’re hard to track, it’s about bringing every manual task into the same workflow portal that your devices use. The data about who reformatted, restocked, pipetted—and how they did it—doesn’t have to be lost.
These strategies are all part of lab orchestration and can be used to speed up research timelines and get results.
Biosero’s Green Button Go® Orchestrator software suite provides applications for planning, scheduling, executing, and optimizing workflows in the lab. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every lab. We mix and match our applications to help customers design the best solution for their lab needs. At the center of it all is our data services application, which acts as a data warehouse and serves as the connection point for all the other Orchestrator applications.
Here are just a few of the tools in Orchestrator and how they help scientists:
- Data Services: This tool allows scientists to connect systems seamlessly in the cloud.
- Insights: Want to know what’s going on during experiments? Insights lets scientists visualize all their processes in one dashboard and keep track of their samples and experiments.
- Scheduler: This tool allows for scheduling and execution of processes on integrated platforms.
- Workflow Designer: With this application, scientists can design and build workflows that work for their teams.
- Workflow Conductor: This tool gives scientists control over all the workflows they use throughout the lab.
- Lab Experience: This application captures and digitalizes existing manual tasks and data to help scientists avoid those tedious tasks.
- IoT Instrument Agent: This tool offers the ability to track processes and data plus operate standalone equipment.
- Transportation Manager: This function allows scientists to move materials across the entire laboratory and beyond.
Want to learn more?
We’ve got a few resources picked out for you.
Need a refresher on what orchestration entails? Here is a quick primer.
Want to review these points in a webinar format?
Our full SLAS2023 Tutorial presentation is a great place to learn about these ideas in an audio format. Check it out on our site or on YouTube.
Virtual or live tours of lab orchestration systems
Sometimes you just want to experience the thing before you buy it—like the test drive on a new car. Biosero Acceleration Labs provide you with the opportunity to test drive an automation concept before you actually bring it home. Virtual and in-person experience are available.
Get Biosero’s help launching orchestration for your lab
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