Charting the Waters of Automation: Planning for and Adopting Automation in Your Laboratory

Humans, as a species, are information seekers and social animals. We’re most comfortable making decisions following extensive research, comparison of the options, and discussion. It’s the same whether we’re buying our first car or plotting the course of an ocean voyage, and it even extends to our lives in the laboratory. Whether or not you make the purchasing decisions, selecting what reagents and equipment to use follows the same process.

Nearly everyone would agree that having guidance throughout these long decision processes is helpful, particularly when the purchase is a capital expense. Spending those valuable start-up funds or grant awards requires due diligence. The Automation team at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences understands that investing in automation can be a long road. That’s why they’re committed to being your partner throughout the process, all the way from, “There must be a better way to set up my high-throughput and high-content assays than manual pipetting!” to hands-on help with getting your Biomek set up and running. The Beckman team is committed to its customers’ success, start to finish.

STEP 1: “There must be a better way”

Maybe you’ve gone home and had to ice your hand after a long day of setting up assays. Or maybe you’ve seen how variable manual pipetting can be from well #1 to well #1,001. Perhaps you’re one of the “sort-o-maters” – the scientists who use older, less integrated automation platforms, or you’re just not happy with the level of service from your current vendor. Whatever the case, you’ve identified a problem and you’re looking for a way to solve it.

How can Beckman help you at this early stage of your journey? Well, if you’re reading this article, you’ve found one of the ways that Beckman can help. It starts with letting you know that you’re not alone. In fact, members of the Beckman team have experienced the frustrations of assay variability and repetitive stress during their time in the lab. Manual pipetting and fatigue go hand-in-hand, and all scientists are faced with the reality that – try as they might – good technique and conscientious assay setup can only take you so far, and some automation platforms require too much babysitting. So, if you’re looking for that “better way”, Beckman has a solution. Keep reading.

STEP 2: “What are my options for improved assay accuracy and decreased hands-on time?”

Manual pipetting introduces significant variability in assay setup over time and between users, but there are several possible solutions that you should consider.

  1. Handheld electronic pipettes: These can mitigate the risk for repetitive stress injuries by decreasing the number of times and force needed to depress the plunger, however, handheld electronic pipettes are still at risk for some of the same issues as manual pipettes, including poorly fitting tips, temperature and pressure lability, and inter-user variability.
  2. Adding headcount: Another response to manual pipetting’s speed and accuracy shortcomings is to simply hire additional trained staff. More hands means more pipetting. However, by adding those additional hands, a company is committing to the additional costs of onboarding new team members, not to mention the inherent inter-user variability that haunts manual pipetting. If you’re sort-o-mating, additional hands can help to keep your workflows moving, but you’ll face a similar cost/benefit analysis.
  3. Opt for smart automation: Choose a platform that achieves both improved accuracy and decreased hands-on time.

As a partner in your success, Beckman helps guide you through this stage with the information you need to properly compare your options. The Beckman team truly cares about getting your assay up and running so you can make the discoveries only you can make.

STEP 3: The liquid-handling automation landscape

If reproducibility and accuracy are key considerations in your work, you’re most likely going to choose a liquid-handling platform – but not all platforms are the same. To begin, there are standalone liquid-handling platforms, like plate washers, that perform one task. Other liquid handling platforms are partially automated, or “sort-o-mated”, where the assay can be set to run a basic program without too much trouble. Complete liquid-handling automation is a full-service platform that has the ability to finish a run, make an informed decision as to the next steps, and start the next round of assays. If this sounds too good to be true, check out this article on how to manage the data your screens generate.

If you’re not sure what your needs are, Beckman’s team of automation experts, many of whom have logged an impressive number of hours at the bench, are always available to help you determine which products might best solve your problems. If you have time for a quick call, you have time to ask and have your questions answered by someone who can point you in the best direction for your team’s needs. This personalized approach to automation extends beyond the sales process, and into the level of support offered by the dedicated team at Beckman.

STEP 4: Continued support

Once your Biomek is installed, you’ll probably have a few questions. Rather than leave you high and dry with a box of equipment, Beckman makes a point of being your partner and making sure that you’re getting the most out of your Biomek. This type of continued support is rare in the world of biotechnology equipment, but it is Beckman’s commitment to you and your research that truly make the Biomek the right choice.

Now that you’re familiar with the process of evaluating whether or not Beckman’s smart automation is right for you and choosing which platform will best serve your unique needs, it’s time to start your own journey. Are you ready to leave manual pipetting behind and say farewell to sort-o-mation? Consider how smart automation can change the way you set up, run, and analyze assays, and we’ll be ready for you if you have any questions. To learn the true stories behind Beckman’s personal touch, check out this video to hear it in their own words.