By Enrique Neumann
Previously, we looked at what differentiates a competent genomics scientist from a ”rock star”, and learned that the true geniuses are both fast and productive, but nevertheless always focus on quality. Similar to a conventional rock star, the genomics scientist needs high quality instruments that work in concert—at the same time and with great precision. In a perfect world, your equipment and automation solutions are integrated and have excellent precision, enabling high throughput genomics applications. But in practice, what does it really take to rock productivity in the genomics lab?
In this post we take a look at four of our clients to see how Fluent® laboratory automation solution has transformed their productivity and helped them become real rock-stars in the genomics lab.
1. Consistent workflow: an error-eliminating game changer
Our first example is a production lab that has a very complex workflow. The high level of complexity, with multiple things to be done and prepared made the setup of the lab’s assorted instruments very difficult. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were a struggle to implement, because many team members were sharing instruments, yet there were significant discrepancies between their set-up procedures and workflows. TouchTools™ —the built-in touchscreen interface in Fluent—proved to be a game changer for the lab, with its ability to guide each user and help them go through daily tasks in a fast and consistent way.
While it may seem relatively unimportant from a scientific point of view, for the client to be able to control the instruments using a tactile screen was what really transformed their daily routines – making everything simpler, more efficient, and virtually error-proof. TouchTools made it easy for the lab manager to create a rich, yet intuitive and tailored, interface that guides each technician in exactly how to use the instruments, making sure that everyone follows the correct SOP, every time. With its integrated user management, TouchTools helps to differentiate between operators and users as regards access to the script and rights to program. It thereby protects the scripts from unintentional changes. With TouchTools helping to clarify and enforce the correct procedures, the team found that errors were significantly reduced.
2. 3D simulation helps planning for the future
Our second example is a genomics lab comprising ten people. They needed something dynamic and extremely flexible that could cover a number of different processes with ease, in spite of a high level of complexity. Ultimately, the client has to keep their team very lean, and therefore they needed an automation solution that could help them maximize each person’s productivity, now and in the future. For them, the reservoir of Smart Commands was an important aspect in achieving this goal. Smart Commands is part of FluentControl™, an innovative software that makes it easy to design your workflow with drag and drop functions and a 3D simulator. Another valuable feature for the client was the patented Dynamic Deck™, a high capacity worktable that can easily be configured and reconfigured. Being able to set up the worktable using reliable 3D simulation helps the team visualize complex processes as well plan for the future.
3. High-speed pipetting exceeds expectations
Another client example is a molecular biology research lab that had a very bad experience with a previous automation solution. They had not been able to make their system work for many years. This was not due to lack of competence; the lab belongs to a pharmaceutical company with access to biologists, programmers, technicians and engineers. When looking for a new supplier, they did very thorough research, including visiting another one of our clients who were already working with Fluent, using the kind of automation processes that they were interested in. One of their requirements was to migrate a certain procedure from the Freedom EVO® platform, to Fluent. With Tecan support, the migration was completed in three and a half days instead of the expected five days. This gives an indication of how adaptive and flexible Fluent is – both for the end-users and for engineering support teams.
In addition, the lab needed a high-speed pipetting solution, which both EVO and Fluent provide. The speed and accuracy of the Fluent pipetting solution exceeded their expectations. We have previously discussed repetitive and labor-intensive work in the genomics lab and how smart automation solutions like Fluent can make a huge difference – reducing errors, increasing productivity and making staff more motivated.
As this example demonstrates, automation solutions need to be user-friendly. If a system requires specialist operators (or if no one can use it at all), it will be very expensive in the long run. Software is often the most critical factor in determining how user-friendly the system will be. Fluent comes with smart software that is both stable and reliable. It gives the user a lot of feed-back, for instance the system will tell you if it expects a crash or if something you are designing is not possible. It also supports very complex processes — you can go really deep and unlock your own potential, especially if you know a bit of math.
4. Doing more with less sample by reducing dead volumes
The last example is a service provider lab battling with the challenges of working with unique biological samples that can vary in origin—from mice, for example, to human patients. The quantity of material is never exactly the same and is always very limited. The lab runs a battery of tests, as dictated by the needs of the customers, but in many cases tests cannot be performed due to lack of material. They sought a solution that would enable them to do more tests with the same amount of material, thereby enabling them to do more for their customers. In short, what they were asking for when looking for a new solution was to be able to aspirate with as little dead volume as possible. That is, starting out with as small a volume as possible and ending up with 10 μL of material for their tests.
Fluent can achieve this feat with a mere 15 μL of material, although the client opted for 20 μL. Their initial expectation had been to go from 50 μL to 10 μL, which meant that Fluent exceeded that expectation by far. Fluent is equipped with a very precise liquid detecting technology called Adaptive Signal Technology™. The technology allows the system to reliably detect extremely low amounts of liquid in a tube. Being a service provider, the lab now has the means to perform all the tests that their customers are requesting, and also to offer more tests, using only 20 μL of sample volume.
Besides being able to offer more tests and expand their business, the lab is also able to save costs because of the low dead volumes. Some reagents are extremely expensive. If you constantly have a few μL left in the tube, and if this happens repeatedly, perhaps every day, in a year that will amount to a substantial amount of money that you could have put to good use, rather than discarding it as waste.
As we’ve shown here, four key ways to improve productivity in the lab are: enabling a more consistent workflow, making use of 3D simulation, incorporating high-speed pipetting and more efficient use of existing sample volumes.
Find out more about our automation solutions
If you want to know more about Tecan’s genomics automation solutions, subscribe to The Helicase, our dedicated genomics channel, where you will have access to genomics experts who will give you more ideas on how to automate your lab.
Michael Asham, Applications Scientist
Guido Cimoli, Sales Development Specialist LSA Automated Solutions Europe
About the author
Dr Enrique Neumann is Product and Application Manager, Genomics, at Tecan, Switzerland. He studied Biology at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. During his PhD at the University of Edinburgh, he focused on the molecular processes in plant cells. He joined Tecan in 2015 and focuses on the development and support of genomic applications for Tecan’s liquid handling platforms.