Laboratory Automation

Laboratory automation is a multi-disciplinary strategy to research, develop, optimize and capitalize on technologies in the laboratory that enable new and improved processes. Laboratory automation professionals are academic, commercial and government researchers, scientists and engineers who conduct research and develop new technologies to increase productivity, elevate experimental data quality, reduce lab process cycle times, or enable experimentation that otherwise would be impossible.

The most widely known application of automation technology is laboratory robotics. More generally, the field of automation comprises many different automated laboratory instruments, devices, software algorithms, and methodologies used to enable, expedite and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of scientific research in laboratories.

Automation can be implemented throughout a lab. Starting in the mid-1990s, several commercial laboratory companies and a handful of hospital laboratories took the plunge and installed total laboratory automation (TLA) systems in their high volume core laboratories.

Today, hundreds of clinical pathology laboratories in the United States have turned to laboratory automation as one approach to improving quality, reducing turnaround times for lab test results, to save money, and to improve staff productivity. Interest among clinical laboratories in automation is at an all-time high.

The cost of such TLA systems, however, often leads labs to opt instead for modular automation, which generally consists of consolidated analyzers, integrated analyzers, modular workcells, and pre- and post-analytical automation.

Another automation option is an island of automation, in which a single robotic system or other automatically operating machine functions independently of any other machine or process. Islands of automation offer the lab more flexibility in designing the workflow, and can also perform labor-intensive or hazardous tasks.

The application of technology in today’s laboratories is required to achieve timely progress and remain competitive. Laboratories devoted to activities such as high-throughput screening, combinatorial chemistry, automated clinical and analytical testing, diagnostics, large scale biorepositories, and many others would not exist without advancements in laboratory automation.

Many clinical laboratories are implementing automation solutions as a substitute for manual labor, due to the largest workforce shortage in the history of the medical laboratory industry. Appropriate use of integrated workstations, automated analyzers, and TLA systems all make it possible to re-assign the lab’s most skilled staff members to responsibilities that contribute much higher value.

The development of laboratory automation systems (LAS) would not be possible without sophisticated laboratory information systems (LIS).

Converting Paper Requisitions to Digital Cut Lab’s Costs

CEO SUMMARY: Health Network Laboratories cut costs and shortened lab test turnaround time by converting paper requisitions to digital data. It did so by scanning paper requisitions and having a vendor do the required data entry. This helped the lab reduce errors in its patient data. Using…

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Combining Lean with Lab Automation to Get Impressive Results

CEO SUMMARY: By combining total lab automation with Lean techniques in a comprehensive makeover of its microbiology lab, one of the largest labs providing hospital acute care and community microbiology services in North America achieved major benefits. Benefits ranged from impro…

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RFID Lab Inventory System Saves $465K in First Year

CEO SUMMARY: Seeking ways to automate every aspect of work flow, the clinical laboratory at St. Francis Health System in Tulsa, Oklahoma, implemented a unique automated laboratory inventory management system that utilizes RFID. In the first four months, the system helped the hosp…

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Physician Group ACO Targets High-Volume Tests for Savings

HERE’S AN EXAMPLE OF HOW an accountable care organization views cost control.  Atrius Health sought to control excess costs by focusing on high-priced items. It started with inappropriate hospitalizations and imaging studies and moved on to laboratory testing. Atrius Health is…

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Magnets to Move Tubes on ARUP’s Testing Line

CEO SUMMARY: In Salt Lake City, Utah, work is underway to pioneer use of an electro-magnetic conveyor system to automate the movement of large volumes of lab test specimens throughout the testing facility of ARUP Laboratories. Within two years, this new lab automation technology could all…

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Pursuing More Benefits From Next Generation Lab Automation

CEO Summary: Once it was decided to replace an aging, five-year-old laboratory automation system at the laboratory of Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois, the administration at the hospital issued a challenge. It asked the laboratory team to deliver an immediate 10% cos…

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Phlebotomy Automation Likely To Be Next Trend

CEO SUMMARY: Here’s a prediction that automation of work processes for phlebotomy, specimen collection, and specimen transport may be the next trend. Unfolding developments in the United States are creating a situation parallel to what was seen in Japanese hospital laboratories more tha…

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Lab Automation Advocates Gather in Kobe, Japan

CEO SUMMARY: Everything relating to automation in clinical laboratory operations was the theme of the sixth “International Conference of Laboratory Automation and Robotics,” conducted last month in Kobe, Japan. Because laboratories in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have two and three decade…

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Univ. of Tokyo Hospital Lab Has Plenty of Automation

CEO SUMMARY: In Japan, many clinical laboratories are in their third decade of using automation. At the University of Tokyo Hospital, total laboratory automation (TLA) was first implemented in 1991. Now on its fourth generation TLA system, this laboratory was worked upstream to automate s…

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Lab Automation Viewed As Essential Solution

CEO SUMMARY: A merger of three hospitals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, forced PinnacleHealth’s lab director to find new ways to increase efficiency. A lab automation project helped improve turnaround time and staff productivity and cut costs. The cost savings is about 50 cents per test, …

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