Laboratory robotics simply explained

Lab Automation
5. Nov 2023
Laboratory robotics involves using robots to automate repetitive tasks in labs, enhancing precision, efficiency, and productivity. Today, companies like ESSERT Robotics offer advanced solutions that transform lab operations.

The term laboratory robotics describes the act of using automated platforms and robots in a laboratory setting. This can be in a biotechnology, pharmaceutical, or chemical environment, or even across various fields in a collaborative way. 

Comprehensive advanced laboratory robotic systems can be used to carry out complex processes, covering every step from beginning to end. Those processes usually consist of repetitive tasks and movements such as pipetting, picking, mixing, dosing or dispensing. Here, we will take a closer look at different types and applications of lab robotics and give answers to some key questions about lab automation.

What is laboratory robotics?

Laboratory robotics refers to the use of robotic systems and automation technology in laboratory settings. Those are employed to automate various repetitive and time-consuming tasks and processes that would traditionally have been carried out manually. The various robotic systems available are designed to handle and control a variety of labware and laboratory equipment but also samples and reagents. ESSERT Robotics offers lab automation solutions in the form of a robotic workstation.

The main aim of laboratory robots is to enhance efficiency, precision, and productivity in laboratory workflows. In order to be functional, the various systems and platforms utilized in scientific and industrial labs require lab automation software.

Types of laboratory robots

The requirements and needs of the life sciences are vastly different across the various fields and cannot be covered by a single robotic system. To this end, laboratory automation encompasses a variety of robotic systems and devices designed to automate specific tasks and processes. They can be categorized based on their intended applications and functions. 

Lab robotics commonly used in laboratory automation include:

  • Robotic arms: These versatile robotic systems, equipped with multiple degrees of freedom, are used for sample manipulation, plate movement, and instrument integration. Robotic arms and grippers are commonly employed in laboratory automation systems for pharmaceutical applications.
  • Plate handling robots: Plate handling robots specialize in the movement and manipulation of microplates and labware. Not only can they load, unload and stack plates but also transport them between workstations.
  • Microplate readers: These are integrated with microplate readers for automated data acquisition from microplates. They are used in a number of applications, such as ELISAs, as well as for high-throughput screening.
  • Automated testing for pathogens: Robotic microscopes are able to automatically capture images of samples, such as cells or tissue sections. They are used in applications like high-content screening and digital pathology.
  • Liquid handling robots: Liquid handling robots can perform tasks such as pipetting, dispensing, dosing, dilution, and mixing of reagents and samples. These robots are designed to accurately and precisely handle liquids and are crucial for high-throughput applications in genomics, drug discovery, as well as clinical diagnostics.

Applications of laboratory robotics

These days it is common in many fields to employ artificial intelligence in order to achieve optimization of repetitive processes. In terms of lab work, there is a growing number of laboratory automation solutions and applications available to carry out different tasks across various scientific and industrial fields.

Robotic automation is used to enhance efficiency, precision, and productivity in laboratory workflows, in development as well as in diagnostics and for manufacturing purposes. Labs dealing with high volumes of samples, for example, would be best advised to employ an autosampler. This laboratory robot for sample dispensing is designed to accurately and efficiently pippet, mix and measure samples, before dispensing them. It is programmed to perform precise measurements while taking into consideration factors like sterility and temperature control.

Advantages of Laboratory Robotics

Apart from optimizing processes and minimizing the potential for human error, laboratory robotics offer a number of other advantages. For one, they are able to operate in environments that are not safe or harmful for humans, for instance when dangerous chemicals are involved.

Any task involving hazardous chemicals requires numerous safety protocols if carried out by humans, which is time-consuming and requires additional resources. Robots, on the other hand, can perform these tasks without having to deal with certain safety precautions. Additionally, they are able to operate around the clock, thus increasing productivity and output. 

Automation systems often include sample tracking and labeling features, ensuring accurate sample identification via barcodes. They ensure consistency across each run or assay, thus reducing batch-to-batch variations and improving overall data consistency.

Considerations with Lab Robotics

Labs wanting to integrate lab robotics in their daily routine will have to consider certain facts and circumstances. One of the main considerations is the compatibility with existing equipment and processes, especially if they are supplied by a variety of manufacturers.

In order to remain operational, labs should be able to maintain their existing processes while transitioning to a solution provided by a robot manufacturer. In some cases, transitioning may entail having to move to a new space, which is another consideration to deal with.

Compliance with GMP and relevant regulatory standards is another issue, as is easy accessibility to all necessary tools and consumables. In order to remain flexible, modular and scalable automation systems are the ideal solution, both short- and long-term.

GMP compliance with laboratory robotics

GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) and cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) compliance are essential in laboratory settings to ensure the quality and safety of products. The introduction of robotic automation in laboratories has significantly advanced GMP and cGMP compliance. 

Automation systems feature stringent quality control measures, real-time data monitoring, and precise documentation, which are critical for maintaining the high standards required in GMP-regulated environments. These systems reduce the risk of human error, ensuring consistency in processes and record-keeping, thus bolstering compliance efforts.

History of laboratory robotics

Lab automation, which has evolved over the last decades, was and is driven by technological advancements. Catering to a need for increased efficiency as well as for higher precision and reliable high-throughput rates, its main aim is the optimization of lab work. 

The 1980s saw the emergence of the first robotic systems specifically designed for laboratory applications. Robotic arms were used for simple tasks like sample picking and instrument interfacing. The development of high-throughput screening (HTS) systems in the pharmaceutical industry was a significant milestone during this decade. 

The 1990s and early 2000s brought more sophisticated and complex systems along with further advancement and expansion. Advanced software was designed to include experiment design and data management, while robotics expanded into various applications, including clinical diagnostics, materials science, and food testing. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of automation in diagnostic testing. To this day, the field of lab automation is on a trajectory of continued growth and innovation. 

Lab automation with laboratory robotic devices from ESSERT Robotics

As the base for ESSERT’s Lab Solution, the ADVANCED Robotic Workstation is an automation solution covering daily laboratory routines and addressing staff requirements,  thus reducing production costs.

The Robotic Workstation stands as a testament to cutting-edge laboratory automation, seamlessly merging robotics, connectivity, and advanced functionality. Its adaptability, precision, and seamless integration make it a valuable asset for achieving optimal workflow automation. 

MicroFactory – from lab scale to HMLV production

The combination of multiple ADVANCED Robotic Workstations to form an ESSERT MicroFactory allows for the entire production process to be efficiently automated. The robotic solution’s modularity provides a high level of flexibility. 

FAQs about Laboratory Robotics

What is automation?

What is lab automation?

What is an autosampler?

What is a robotics lab?

What is robotic process automation (RPA)?

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