The primary gains of introducing automation are saving precious time and cutting the cost of operations. The two goals are achieved through the takeover of repetitive and dull operations by automated devices so that the operator gets freed for other important tasks.
The article examines how automation contributes to overall improvement in operations of a laboratory. Marked changes will get noticed over time in the following areas:
Time is taken to perform different tasks
- Elimination of errors leading to greater accuracy and precision of results
- Communication of results both within and outside the laboratory
- Control over inventories
Improvements in the above-listed areas will reflect through measurable changes inefficient utilization of facilities and human resources.
Saving of time
The changeover from manual operations to automated operations is accompanied by a multifold saving of time. Consider, for example, shifting from manual injections to automated injections with the help of an autosampler in chromatographic analysis.
Autosampler injection needle picks up required injection volumes from sample vials in accordance with the set program
A programmed sequence of injections can run unattended for hours together even overnight when no one is around
Significant time saving over manual injections using syringes Each manual injection requires time for filling the syringe with the correct volume, observing the mark on the syringe and in the expulsion of trapped air before making the injection. Such steps are avoided in automated injections.
Injection sequence can be altered during runs to accommodate priority samples if the situation arises.
Sample preparation and treatment steps such as extractions, homogenization, filtrations, derivatizations, centrifugations, sonications and acid digestions can be automated with appropriate timer settings. This affords significant saving of time and as additional benefit provides personal safety while carrying out such routine laboratory operations.
Elimination of Errors
Automation brings about the elimination of errors involved in manual operations which often result from human bias and fatigue. As an example consider chromatographic systems once again.
Volumes can be injected with highest levels of accuracy and precision.
Selection of operating conditions such as detector wavelength, column oven temperature, the flow rate of mobile phase and any other operating conditions are selected automatically and maintained over extended time periods.
Results are reported through automatic treatment of observed data. This affords significant time saving over the manual recording of results followed by manual calculations based on extrapolation of data at times.
Communication of Results
Introduction of Laboratory Information Management Systems offers much-desired online transmission of results across the laboratory and even to clients whose samples are under analysis.
Immediate corrective actions are possible only when data gets exchanged without delays. It becomes even more significant when corrective actions become possible with minimum time delays in industries manufacturing large batches of consumer products
Control of Inventories
Laboratory operations begin to show manifold improvements when inventories of chemicals, reagents, glassware, instrument spares and consumables are controlled through automated laboratory inventory management software. In earlier times records used to be maintained manually and consumption estimates often went off the mark. However, with an introduction of laboratory management software and realistic control over supplies became possible. This helped overcome unexpected delays due to non- availability of supplies when most needed.
Automated instruments and laboratory management systems have contributed immensely to increased laboratory productivities and streamlining of operations. In the coming time more and more laboratory practices will come under the fold of automation leading to even more efficient utilization of facilities and manpower compared to today’s standards.