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By Simon Fogarty
At Tecan, we’ve been solving lab automation problems for over thirty years. In planning for SLAS2016, I was asked an interesting question: what are the main automation challenges that people face in drug discovery and screening? I can break them down into categories, and illustrate them with the most common requests that we get.

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Challenges fall into four categories:

1) Doing new things in an automation-friendly way. This might be, for example, automating new kits.

2) Going bigger. People want to scale up or migrate from manual processes to automation. 

3) Handling information and data in workflows. For example, a new instrument has been inserted into a process with upstream and/or downstream instruments, and where the data are transmitted seamlessly between them.

4) Advice on a tailored script where executing the activity is complex. For example, you might need a 384-well plate split into 4x96 well plates in a rather unconventional way. 

Specifically, here is a list of common questions we get:

  1. I need help in automating this new reagent kit.
  2. I need my technicians to be up and running on the robot; can you design a short training program that gets them proficient in a few minutes?
  3. We are spending far too much time and labor pipetting by hand.  Can you migrate our existing processes to liquid handlers to free up my staff?
  4. We have specific data formatting requirements, e.g. Excel spreadsheets needed in an exact format to smoothly integrate with our other instruments. What do you suggest?
  5. We are looking to scale up to higher volumes to drive down costs per well and increase our profitability. Can you help?
  6. We need someone to help us – not just a vendor – for streamlining our workflow, and help our instruments communicate with each other. 
  7. We are about to spend a lot of money on instrumentation and we need to make sure that we are prepared for today, but also ready for changing needs down the road. What are the upgrades in the field for new capabilities?
  8. We have an automation process that we’re not sure how to tackle. It doesn’t seem possible with existing software. What can we do?
  9. Liquid handling is one thing, but I also need my samples barcoded, reports generated, data crunched, and results reported to our LIMS system. Can you help me?

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About the author

Simon Fogarty

Simon has a broad background in drug discovery automation covering all areas from assay development to design of automation systems. He is enthusiastic about the life sciences and constantly strives to provide practical working solutions to researchers. After working in both pharma/biotech and life science instrumentation sectors for a number of years he joined Tecan in 2008. At Tecan Simon is Director of the Application Sciences Group the USA.