Like many other industries, laboratories are looking for ways to work more efficiently and competitively. An important step in this is to automate standardized processes in laboratories. Consider, for example, the challenge of automating storage systems, sample processing, or high-throughput protocols. Traceability and existing work processes should also be taken into account. We propose to cobotize.
Besides cost considerations we can think of several other reasons:
Your methods and data are fully reproducible, traceable and shareable.
Maximize time. Spending less time on manual, repetitive actions means more time for where you as a person have added value: data analysis, designing experiments and communicating results.
Making mistakes is human, cobots won't make them. Machines do not get tired or bored. Eliminate incorrect results or unnecessary repeat testing by automating.
Increase employee satisfaction. Working in a flow hood or fume cupboard for a long time is unpleasant, no matter how ergonomically designed your chair is.
We often talk about Dull, Dirty and Dangerous tasks that cobots perform. In laboratories, another D is added: Delicate. Cobots can handle delicate objects. They are precise and have a high repeatability.
Tasks for cobots in laboratories
Cobots can perform many different tasks in laboratories. For example, loading and unloading medical washing machines, feeding pipettes or filling dispensers and incubators.
A link to a database is often requested. This is no problem at all: the cobot can be programmed to communicate with LIMS or ERP systems. For cold environments, protective covers for the cobot will have to be considered, since cobots do not work in temperatures below zero. Also check the IP or Cleanroom classification for your specific needs in the cobot brand specifications.
Cobots can be combined with vision systems. In this way all kinds of processes can be cobotized. Have you come up with an idea of which processes can be automated in your laboratory? DNA extraction, ICP sample preparation, cell transfection, viscosity measurement, elemental analysis in HPLC vials, titration, dosing or pipetting machines?
Glassware and other objects are regularly moved. This too can be cobotized, but with Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). AMRs are self-driving wagons that make a map of the area in which they are driving by using cameras and sensors. That way they can also avoid unforeseen obstacles and arrive at their destination via an alternative route. They even arrange charging themselves.
Cobots are usually smaller than traditional robots, but some are even small and light enough to be put on a desk or work table. These are the so-called tabletop cobots such as the UR3 and HCR3. They are ideally suited to perform analysis and test tasks next to employees at the same desk.
Those analysis and test cobots can be moved to new workplaces or tasks quickly and easily. They can be programmed by the people who work with them. So you don't have to be a robot programmer with knowledge of code to give a cobot another task. This gives you the flexibility to automate almost any manual task, including tasks with small batches.
Laboratories without people?
Will we see a fully automated laboratory in the future, without people? No, most organizations can initially achieve a production increase with the same amount of employees. The result is expansion and the need for more people. Labs will sooner need more people for data analysis.