By Andreas Schmitt
When you have a diagnostic lab instrument and want to make the move to automation, creating high-quality, reliable and intuitive robot control software that, optimizes throughput, provides process safeguards, and analyzes and presents results, is vital.
Developing Iiquid handling automation software in-house may, on the surface, seem more cost-effective than outsourcing with an OEM provider, but in the long run, it’s not. Beyond the regulatory and resource concerns, trusting IVD software design and development to an experienced lab automation company who can support the product long-term offers many strategic advantages.
Well-designed automation software can help an instrument that might look similar to all the others on the market stand out.
Quality software is critical
Investing in state-of-the-art software is a smart business decision for laboratory instrument manufacturers. Consider this: The hardware development timeline is typically very slow compared to software development. So, in software lies the real potential to create updated products that are differentiated from the competition. A well-designed software architecture can help an instrument that might look similar to all the others on the market to stand out. Taking the right approach to developing your IVD automation software is where you’ll win.
Reasons in-house development backfires
You might think in-house development saves time, but it can backfire for many reasons. Let’s take a look at some of them.
1. Not future-proof.
IVD products are typically in the market a long time – sometimes up to 20 years or more. Software that is designed and developed without a truly adaptable operating system or flexible approach behind it can become outdated quickly. You need to make sure the automation software--the essential differentiating factor of your instrument--can be updated and revitalized easily as new best practices become available. You also want to have a strategy that supports rolling out new functionality and upgraded versions of your instrument on a planned basis with frequency and ease.
2. Lack of scalability.
As mentioned, software environments evolve fast. Customer needs change quickly, too. It can be difficult to predict future trends, and you need a solution that can grow in an agile way. New processes or streamlined methods like next generation sequencing become available and sample preparation and liquid handling methods need to adjust. Adding additional modules, the ability to handle larger capacity, or changes in how reagents or materials are handled shouldn’t cause you to have to start from scratch with your software design.
3. Not easily customizable.
In order to address fast-changing customer requirements, the software must be customizable. Typically, in-house software solutions are created to fit one purpose whether its sample preparation or immunoassay workflows. They fulfill the specifications at the time but may not anticipate future needs. Software that is designed to be adaptable and built to consider the potential for customization, will ensure your instrument’s longevity.
4. Software maintenance is costly.
IVD instrument software faces a distinctive challenge in that it must be able to coordinate electronics, mechanical systems, fluidics and chemistries together. The opportunity for systems to malfunction is great, and good software is able to compensate. Issues such as integration of tech support, error handling support and even field service diagnostics, can add time and costs both during development as well as during field use. Software maintenance is further complicated by the need to reduce the development team size after the product release. This leads to knowledge loss and usually results in higher maintenance costs than expected. An outsourced option with a trusted OEM partner can save money in the long run.
5. May lack best practices.
One of the key reasons in-house software fails is lack of documentation, especially when the one person at the company who knows how it works leaves. Experienced providers of diagnostic lab software build enterprise-grade solutions for thousands of companies and understand what works and doesn’t. They are able to address the efficiencies on the back end of the system, as well as understand the user needs. A well-developed system of testing, usability studies, and debugging, along with thorough documentation are critical for product success as well as for meeting regulatory scrutiny.
Reasons to outsource to an OEM partner
Outsourcing your IVD software development to an experience OEM partner offers you flexibility, as well as assurance about working with experts who are qualified in developing a robust system architecture that will support the lifecycle of your product. Some reasons to outsource include:
1. Dramatic cost reduction.
It’s common for companies to think “We can do it cheaper if we build it ourselves.” But the reality is that in-house development rarely costs less – neither in staff time (short-term) or long-term support of the product after deployment.
An OEM partner has hundreds of thousands of hours of experience building and documenting automation solutions. They’ve had years of source code build-up and the opportunity to improve the overall system architecture. It’s been tested, released and validated. A good OEM partner will concentrate on understanding all of your requirements up front, will know where hurdles typically arise, and will focus on keeping your project on budget.
2. Faster time to market.
Outsourcing can help you move faster than starting from scratch with in-house development. Building an internal software team and recruiting the right specialists can take many months. An experienced outsourced team, on the other hand, can be ready to start on your solution immediately. A reliable OEM partner will offer proven solutions and draw on expertise that can accelerate the market launch of your instrument.
3. Easier scalability.
An outsourced solution makes it possible to scale up (or down) both the size of the project and the team. Fluctuating customer needs, new regulatory requirements or innovations in diagnostic processes can mean changes in your product. Working with an OEM solution provider that builds your software using a modular system architecture will also make it easier to scale up with new features, functions or workflows when needed.
4. Proven systems and best practices.
OEM teams offer expertise in system architecture and provide well-documented, well-tested solutions that follow the latest best practices. For example, Tecan’s MAPlinx™ Software provides a modular operating system for robotic automation upon which custom modules can be developed to meet specific needs. It provides a scalable, rigorously tested system architecture with brandable user-interfaces that can be customized easily and reliably.
5. Assurance of automation expertise.
Building an in-house test automation framework can be very challenging and expensive, often takes many months to develop, and must be maintained forever. With outsourcing, you can find expertise in the exact type of automation software development you need – from liquid handling to reagent loading to specific processing steps.
Scalable software is a differentiator
Developing the type of user-friendly reliable software that takes your product roadmap to the next level requires a solid base operating system for robotic automation. It makes sense to go with a trusted OEM solutions partner and outsource the development of your instrument software using a modular system such as MAPlinx. This easily scalable software solution will help you develop an instrument with a viable long-term lifecycle.
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About the author
Andreas Schmitt is the Software Portfolio Manager for Tecan’s Partnering Business. He works closely with OEM clients and end-users to capture the market needs of today and tomorrow, in order to manage and develop cutting-edge software and digitalization solutions for Tecan’s Partnering Business. Andreas has many years of experience in software and digital solution engineering as well as project management in life science and diagnostics. Andreas holds a diploma in Computer Science and an Executive MBA in International Management.