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Laboratory Automation: Systems, Robotics & Equipment

Instructor: Alexandra Unfried

Alexandra earned her master's degree in nursing education and is currently a hospital supervisor/administrator.

Laboratory automation improves the flow in clinical laboratories while standardizing tests. This lesson will discuss the systems, robotics, and equipment used in laboratory automation.

What Is Laboratory Automation?

Carrie is a new laboratory technician at Green Hospital. She used to work in a small community hospital and has to become familiar with a much larger city hospital. She is checking in with her new manager and getting a tour of the clinical laboratory.

Carrie notices that there are larger, more intricate machines at this hospital to test specimens. She asks her manager about the types of automation that is done at Green Hospital. Carrie's manager begins by explaining the different kinds of automation that are available.

Laboratory automation began in the 1950s and has progressed throughout the decades to reduce lab result times and eliminate human mistakes. Laboratory automation is an instrument or set of instruments that standardize workflow in a clinical laboratory by accepting, processing, and resulting specimens. Specimens include blood samples and bodily fluids to test hematology, chemistry, molecular, anatomic pathology, and microbiology samples. There are many types of instruments and equipment that make up laboratory automation. Each automation system is chosen for individual laboratories based on their workflow and demand. Different types of automation include:

Type of Automation Analysis Method
Autoanalyzer (continuous flow analysis or a sequential analysis) A continuous flow analysis tests multiple samples at one time, while a sequential analysis tests one sample at a time and are resulted in the order they are tested.
Closed automation Uses instruments that only work with other pieces of equipment that are manufactured by the same company.
Open automation Uses instruments that exist independently of each other and can interface with other pieces of equipment from different manufacturers.
Discrete analysis Each sample is analyzed in an individualized reaction chamber where reagents are added separately.
Single-channel analysis A dedicated channel is used for each single test.
Multiple-channel analysis Several analyses are done at one time using two or more channels for the test.
Random access analysis Specimens are tested in or out of the order they are received based on when required channels are available.
Assays Completes tests where there is a fixed time for the reaction to be finished (end-point test), or completes a continuous monitored test where several data results are collected at specific time intervals.

Carrie learns that she will have to familiarize herself with open automation where there will be total laboratory automation. A total laboratory automation means that a track system connects all aspects of the laboratory process, including the receiving of the specimen and the result. Carrie was used to a single channel system where she still had to do some manual transfers of specimens so she has a lot to learn. Carrie's manager goes over some of the equipment that she will see.

Equipment for Laboratory Automation

Equipment for laboratory automation has an interface mechanism so that different instruments communicate with each other and move specimens from one instrument to another. Various pieces of equipment consist of:

  • Conveyor belts move specimens from one area of the lab to other areas for testing and storage.
  • Circuit boards are used to set up tests for the specimens in a standardized fashion.
  • Programmable robotic equipment is able to complete the task that a technician does manually. Robotics can pipe reagents into tubes, transfer specimens to containers, and wash and rinse samples.
  • A track system allows an interface between pre-analytical, analytical, and post-analytical processes. This system move specimens to where they need to go while recognizing what tests need to be done and what to do with the sample after it is tested.
  • Control software has the ordering and resulting software that connects to testing instruments. Results are automatically transmitted to a computer system that has the ability to flag results and alert healthcare providers to review them.

Robotic equipment to handle samples
Robotic equipment to handle samples

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