By James O’Brien


When it’s time to move your biotechnology breakthrough towards commercialization, your specific application workflows may require a custom approach to lab automation. If your requirements are uncommon, there may be no off-the-shelf products available for you to compare and test. Even custom configuration of off-the-shelf components may not be suitable. What is the best approach to finding a custom solution that meets your unique needs?

The answer 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, integration.

Working through a defined process that includes investigation, idea generation, invention, and integration, followed by comprehensive validation upon delivery can help ensure you will have a custom lab automation system that does exactly what you need it to do.

Investigate 

This is the first and most critical step. When you are doing something that nobody has done before, you will have unique performance requirements, ambitions, constraints and concerns that your lab automation system must address. How will all of these challenges be solved? Regardless of whether you are developing your custom lab automation system internally or engaging 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 you need. If this is done well, you will end up with a carefully specified list of requirements for your project and a detailed project plan that gives you complete transparency into the decision-making process.

Ideate

If you search online for “how to build a bridge”, you might find several pages of good answers. There can be many ways to solve a challenge. Brainstorming can be 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 most productive with a team that includes not only 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.

Invent 

It is possible that some elements required to automate your workflow might not exist. Off-the-shelf components that were designed for other purposes may not be suitable for your purposes, even with customized configuration. Your revolutionary breakthrough may require innovation. Depending on the nature of the unmet need and your internal expertise, you may need a partner who is willing and able to develop new software, hardware, or processes to deliver exactly what you require.   

Integrate

Your 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 your 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 your lab automation system upholds the defined specifications, giving you confidence that it will deliver reliable performance while you optimize your workflow.

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 you can get your biotech breakthrough to market with the right specifications, on time, and on budget.

Whether you need a simple modified workstation or a large-scale robotic integration, Tecan’s Labwerx dedicated multidisciplinary teams of life scientists, engineers, and software experts will work closely with you through the “four I’s" to design your custom lab automation solution from concept to completion.

Find out more about Tecan Labwerx for your next custom lab automation project.

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About the author

James O'Brien

James O'Brien

James is a VP at Tecan responsible for the Tecan Integration Group, a part of the Life Sciences Business, which specializes in custom automation solutions for customers. He has worked in a variety of roles for Tecan over the last 14 years in service, product management, marketing, and sales operations. Prior to joining Tecan, James worked in high throughput genomic research at Johns Hopkins University. He is passionate about creating innovative solutions which solve the lab automation problems of tomorrow.