Automation has been helping improve a number of different industries and companies, including those in the medical field. Lab automation has seen several advances and expansions over the last few years. By utilizing technology in the lab space, teams can increase efficiency and increase the quality of testing. Unlocking the potential of lab automation can be done by understanding your customer and workflows, aiming for Six Sigma, and knowing the trends in lab automation being used today.


Understand Your Customer and Workflows

One of the biggest challenges that labs might have as they increase their automation will be to stay focused on customers and the workflow. It is important to keep in mind that in lab automation, the changes will involve the handling of specimens. The goal of automation for labs is to improve the quality and efficiency of handling, sorting, and distributing a vast number of specimens. To do this well, there needs to be a good understanding of the lab workflow. Specifically, the peak hours of the day and how many specimens are handled during that time.


Labs should document what happens in the space over a 24-hour period. That includes where the specimens go, who handles them during that time, and all the different factors involved with specimen handling. This documentation can help bring clarity and understanding of the benefits of automation for a lab.


The lab leadership should develop a workflow analysis to get a full understanding of the challenges in the lab as well as the opportunities that automation presents. An analysis of the lab workflow can also uncover bottlenecks. These will be the areas that automation should focus on for maximum benefit. 



Leverage Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a little-known quality improvement process. It is similar to the car manufacturing improvement process that Toyota started using in the 80s. That process was called Lean. It became more widespread in the car manufacturing industry throughout the 80s and 90s.


Six Sigma was developed a little later than Lean but is the same idea. The purpose is to limit or eliminate defects in a process. However, where Lean is more intuitive-based, Six Sigma is more statistical-based. It is based on improving the cycle-time while reducing defects to less than 3.4 occurrences per million units. In the case of lab automation, this would refer to a handling step.


Most labs operate on a four sigma and even for labs that work really hard to improve, most only get to a five sigma. So, the idea that a lab could achieve six sigma can be difficult to comprehend.


It is important to understand that Six Sigma can also help to improve analytical quality. For example, issuing wrong reports for a test result. The process can also be used in pre-analytics such as misidentified specimens or mislabeled specimens. There are many ways to use Six Sigma to improve the quality of lab processes.


However, to be successful at achieving Six Sigma, it takes time and dedication. Lab automation can be a major step forward towards reaching that level.



Know the Latest Trends in Lab Automation

Understanding the latest trends in lab automation can help leadership teams make the best decisions about the technology that will help them overcome their specific challenges. One of the biggest trends in lab automation is called machine vision.


This method involves using cameras with automation to examine specimens. This technology can overcome issues with relying on the human eye to look at specimens. Machine vision can also help oversee that things are done right in this area. For example, looking at a test tube to ensure it is the right one for the test. If the camera identifies the tube as the incorrect one for the test, it then sets that tube aside. Later on, an investigation can be done to correct the problem or override it. Machine vision can help overcome human error, which is bound to happen in these types of situations.


Another way to use machine vision in lab automation is to enable the device to examine the test tube and see the packed cells and serum. Then using the dimensions of the tube, the volume of the serum can be calculated. That information can then be used to guide a pipette tip that will work and put it into a transfer tube. Alternatively, the process can be used to help the aspiration tube to take some of the specimens for testing on an analyzer.


There are even more sophisticated methods that can be used with cameras in the lab. For example, it can determine if the specimen is hemolyzed or icteric and has a yellowish-green color. Lab automation can also help see if the specimen has excess lipids and cloudiness, which would call for an ultracentrifuge.


Using a camera in a lab setting opens up many possibilities for automation to overcome the limitations of the human eye when it comes to inspections and quality improvement.

Over the past few months, in a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have taken more of an interest in automating some of their processes. While this was primarily due to the need to simply survive the worldwide economic downturn, companies are now able to see the benefits of automation for themselves.

In particular, IT teams were able to ease the transition to remote working by relying on automated technologies like bots for tasks such as onboarding new employees or handling routine IT support. Automation also assisted overwhelmed customer support teams by allowing chatbots to interact with customers making routine calls. This includes issues like cancellations and other simple scenarios.


The new reality is that increasing automation can improve your business processes and sustain IT efficiency for an organization.



Automation Budgets Set to Grow

There have been several reports over the past few months that found organizations’ interest and willingness to adopt automation has increased dramatically.


A recent study found that automation budgets are expected to increase over the next year[1]. Over a quarter of these increases are expected to exceed 10 percent.  Moreover, of those surveyed, 71 percent indicated that automation has helped to keep their company operating over the past few months.


Other research from Honeywell supported these conclusions. They found that over half of U.S. companies were considering investing in more automation[2]. The main reason for organizations to consider ramping up automation investment was in response to changing market conditions that the pandemic has caused. Those industries that were expected to see the largest increase in automation include e-commerce (66 percent), grocery, food and beverage (59 percent) and logistics (55 percent). But it is not just these industries that will be looking to automation to meet changes. Others include industrial wireless automation, set to increase by $2.03 billion by 2024[3]. Overall automation in the retail industry is also expected to grow substantially over the coming years. Experts have predicted that retail automation will reach $23.2 billion over the next seven years[4].



Where Organizations are Increasing Automation

Automating processes needs to be driven by strategy and consideration. Most organizations are looking at automation to take over simple responsibilities such as customer service or supply chain tasks. Starting slow when it comes to automation is a great approach. It helps you get comfortable with the technology before you start to implement it in other areas. In other words, you can get a few automation wins under your belt before putting the technology in place elsewhere.


Those surveyed indicated they believed that automation in the following areas would be the most important ones for their business in the future:


Customer service  – Having a chatbot respond to customers can improve the satisfaction level of consumers. They will be able to have their questions answered or complete their task with your organization quickly. Moreover, it can save your organization time and money that would otherwise be spent on customer service reps.


Employee service – Working remotely can have its challenges but automating the access that employees have to information can help with the onboarding process. Supporting remote teams is a big challenge for IT departments who are often working remotely themselves. However, through increasing automation, you’ll be able to help out your IT team, who will then be able to focus on more important issues.


Other responses included:

    • Supply chain
    • Flagged robotic processes
    • Managing finances
    • Operations monitoring
    • Quality control analysis
    • Back-office tasks
    • Operational tasks


Benefits of Increasing Automation

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the way organizations interact with consumers, it hasn’t changed their focus. Among the top benefits that employers are seeking through automation are


Employee efficiency – automation allows remote employees the ability to focus on more important company goals while automating more simpler but time-consuming tasks.


Improved productivity – Computers have the capability to complete some tasks faster and more efficiently than humans. For example, calculations can be done quicker with a computer. Sorting through large amounts of data is also another task that computers are speedier at when compared to humans.


Reducing costs – Cutting back on costs is one of the long-term goals for companies that automate their processes. Consider how many hours in labor costs you’ll be able to save if you can cut down the amount of time a task takes or automate it all together.  It is important to remember that automation will have some up-front costs but in the long run it is a solid cost saver.


Meeting customer demands – With COVID-19, consumer demands changed. Statistics have uncovered that online purchases by consumers increased 28 percent recently. Customers now want a smooth online shopping experience, the ability to pick up their purchases in the store or access safe delivery options.


Safety – By automating some workplace processes, employers will be better able to keep workers safe and comply with social distancing regulations. For example, using robots in warehouses to assemble orders can help employees stay safe in the post-COVID-19 world.


Regardless of the benefits that your organization is seeking, the reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic created a sense of urgency for companies to adopt automation solutions. Your IT teams will be key players in helping transform your processes quickly and competently. In turn, increasing automation within your business can help sustain IT efficiency in the long run.


In order to get the most from automation, you’ll need to partner with an experienced provider. If you’re considering automation to help you sustain the efficiency of your IT team, contact Technossus to get the best ROI for your organization.






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