Using automation to fast-track commercialisation
When it’s time to move biotechnology breakthroughs towards commercialisation, specific application workflows may require a custom approach to lab automation. If the requirements are non-standard, no off-the-shelf products may be available for comparison and testing. Even custom configuration of off-the-shelf components may not be suitable. In that case, what would be the ideal approach for finding a custom solution that meets the requirements?
The solution is to use a defined process that ensures each step is thoroughly explored and evaluated. Consider these four ‘I’s’ of custom engineering — investigate, ideate, invent and integrate. Working through a defined process that includes investigation, idea generation, invention and integration followed by comprehensive validation on delivery can help ensure users have a custom lab automation system that does exactly what is required.
This is the first and most critical step. When doing something that hasn’t been done before, the user may have unique performance requirements, ambitions, constraints and concerns that the lab automation system must address. How will all of these challenges be solved? Whether the custom lab automation system is being developed internally or through an automation partner, the investigation should begin with listening. The process should allow all stakeholders to discuss and understand the full scope of exactly what is needed. If done well, it will result in a carefully specified list of requirements for a project and a detailed project plan that provides complete transparency into the decision-making process.
There can be more than one way to solve a problem. Brainstorming is one of the most effective ways to involve the whole team and get lots of ideas on the table. A brainstorming session for a lab automation solution is likely to be highly productive with a team that not only involves experts in life science and lab automation engineering, but also creative thinkers and inventors. This way, the team can bring together their collective knowledge to carefully consider all concepts, even combining elements from different ideas to create the optimal design for your custom-engineered lab automation system.
It is possible that some elements required to automate the workflow might not exist. Off-the-shelf components that were designed for other purposes may not be suitable for your purposes, even with customised configuration. A lab’s revolutionary breakthrough may require innovation. Depending on the nature of the unmet need and a team’s internal expertise, a partner who is willing and able to develop and deliver new software, hardware or processes may be required.
An optimum custom lab automation solution might include standard products, invented components, new software elements and unique workflows. All of these elements must work smoothly together with the components and protocols. The development process should include performance validation of the complete integrated system both in your partner’s facility and in your own lab.
Thorough testing along with documented procedures and performance will help to ensure that the lab automation system upholds the defined specifications, giving confidence that it will deliver reliable performance while the workflow is optimised.
Taking time can save time
Successful development of a complex integrated lab automation solution requires clear definition and understanding of the end goal, expert creative thinking and a well-planned process to get there. Taking time to work through the four I’s — investigation, idea generation, invention when needed and integration — can help to ensure successful validation and avoid multiple iterations so that the biotech breakthrough can be brought to the market with the right specifications, on time and on budget.
Tecan’s Labwerx dedicated multidisciplinary teams of life scientists, engineers and software experts can help researchers through the four I’s to design a custom lab automation solution from concept to completion.
Originally published here.
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