Use of robotics in the QC lab

10 February 2018

Recent years have seen significant advances in the world of laboratory automation. Increased focus is being placed on developing robotic technology that can automate simple, repetitive tasks that do not require human input. So far this technology has mainly been developed for big research labs to carry out high-throughput biological and chemical assays, however, the pharmaceutical industry is beginning to realise the potential for such technology in their own labs.

Quality control (QC) labs in particular would be an excellent starting point for the introduction of robotic technology. Automating the processes of observing and recording microbiological environmental monitoring data would greatly improve the efficiency of a time-consuming and laborious task for QC staff, and would free up time to focus on other aspects of a demanding and busy job.

Why have robotics not been introduced in more QC labs already?

There are two main reasons why automated technology has not yet been introduced more widely in pharmaceutical companies:

  • Cost; both capital costs and change management costs
  • The need to re-train staff and ensure appropriate training is in place for new starters

Robotic technology at the moment tends to come with a high price tag, which is out of reach for many smaller companies for whom it is more economically viable to continue doing the work manually. A further issue, even for the bigger companies, is the hassle of having to re-train staff who have in some cases spent many years in their jobs, and are used to the status quo. As with introducing any new technology in the workplace, resistance to change is one of the biggest issues to overcome.

Ensuring that current staff are re-trained and that newcomers are appropriately trained at the very beginning is a very time- and effort-consuming task. Some technology may also required training of a specialist to maintain and run a delicate piece of machinery. Furthermore, initial setup of a new technology in the lab on top of having to re-train staff could mean taking several days out of the normal routine, time which companies cannot afford to lose without facing a significant backlog of data which would need to be dealt with in the aftermath.

However, while there would likely be a period of transition following introduction of robotics into a lab, such technology could revolutionise the way microbiological monitoring is carried out and recorded on a day-to-day basis. The benefit to lab workers in the long term is significant and will lead to a lot more time being freed up for staff in future than will be lost in the relatively short transition period. Many tasks outside of recording environmental monitoring data, such as administrative tasks, following up where mistakes have been made, and filling out records where deviations from the norm have occurred, are all equally as important as recording the original environmental monitoring data, yet often get left behind because of time constraints. Most importantly, the ability to share and review the data will be vastly improved upon.

By embracing new technology which will automate some of the more repetitive tasks in the QC lab, companies will save time and effort for their lab staff, increasing productivity and efficiency, and reducing human error as a result of performing a boring and laborious task.

Microgenetics is looking to revolutionise the QC laboratory, and our SmartControl product is the first step along that path. By providing QC staff with the most effective tools to do their job, we aim to help companies improve efficiency and productivity in their handling of environmental monitoring data with as little disruption as possible to their daily tasks.

“Automation would free up large amounts of time spent on manual tasks and trying to sort errors in recordings. This time could be better spent investigating mistakes or other important administrative tasks, which we currently struggle to find time for.” — Kelly Coles, QC Assistant at Bath ASU