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Laboratory automation was defined by Robin Felder back in 1998 as “any device, software or process that improves the efficiency of the laboratory.” Since then, there have been some adjustments to that definition to include liquid handlers, robotics and various other technologies.
What has not been adjusted, however, has been the focus on the outcome of the automation itself – namely, the improvement in the efficiency of the lab.
Capturing that “outcome” has proved challenging and especially for small to medium sized labs with smaller resources and with a subsequent larger aversion to risk-taking. Automation can be scary if you don’t really understand what it means and especially so due to a misconception that it is too far out of the reach of small to medium sized labs because of the perceived investment.
This is totally rational human behavior. With any initiative, or investment, you make as an organization or even as an individual, it’s important to know whether it generates what you are aiming for and whether or not the resources you will dedicate towards it are worthwhile.
This is especially true for an investment in lab automation. Historically, there has been a focus on the so-called “softer” elements of lab automation including but not limited to:
- Improvements in productivity – Lab automation equipment moves at speeds that any human simply can’t reach. With speed comes increased productivity.
- Cost savings – Savings are realized as a result of less errors, time saved, reduced waste and enhanced productivity.
- Better staff satisfaction – Labs are already facing issues with staffing and vacancies that cannot be filled fast enough. Roles that are dull, repetitive, and onerous run the risk of lower staff morale, boredom, and indeed, more vacancies. Furthermore, there is a good argument for maximizing the value of your team members and allowing them to focus a majority of their time on more meaningful, stimulating, and value-adding work.
- Enhanced safety – Because automation machines don’t get tired and don’t make mistakes.
- Greater reproducibility – Reproducibility and consistency in results are important for the credibility of labs. Human error – a significant risk in all labs – can, however, negatively affect both. Lab automation eliminates that risk and permits enhanced precision and repeatability.
These outcomes are very beneficial to any lab. The challenge though is that more often than not, there has been a lack of actual figures to accompany many of these lab automation benefits in order to make a clear business case for automation.
With that in mind, MESLO Americas is happy to introduce our Lab Automation Return On Investment (ROI) Scorecard.
What’s On Your Scorecard?
All you need to do is enter in six things:
- The dollar amount of your lab investment (the price of each unit) and how many you are planning to purchase. Remember, you can automate particular workflows and not necessarily your entire lab.
- How many samples you currently process and how often you do so during the week
- How many operators you use to run your current workflow
- How many hours the operators spend on your current workflow & their hourly rate
- The percentage of time spent repeating runs & your average cost per reagent
- Repeat steps 2 through 5 for your automated workflow
These key inputs will push out a scorecard centered on 6 key numbers:
|Estimated Annual Net Cost Savings – highlights your cost savings by using an automated workflow versus your current process||Estimated Annual Increase in Samples Processed – how many more samples you can process with the automated solution versus your current process|
|Estimated Break-Even Point – time taken in months that you can expect to recoup your investment||Efficiency Score – measures the effectiveness of your lab automation versus your manual workflow|
|Estimated Reagent Cost Savings as a result of moving away from error-prone workflows to an error-free automated solution||Estimated Numbers of Hours Saved and thereby allowing your staff to focus on more value adding activities|
Consider the example below of a mainly manual workflow. Note the samples processed per day, the time spent on the workflow and the number of staff members needed as well as the percentage of time spent repeating runs as a result of errors.
The automated solution changes the picture accordingly. With an investment of $40,000 for 1 automation instrument, less labor is involved, fewer hours are spent on the workflow and the number of samples processed increases.
The outcome focuses on the 6 key scores and highlights:
- An annual net cost saving of $91,000
- A break-even point in 5 months
- 32,500 more samples processed over the course of a year
- A 50% increase in efficiency
- 1,040 hours saved that can now be used towards more value adding activities
- $9,750 in reagent cost savings as a result of no more errors
The free-to-use MESLO Americas Lab Automation ROI Scorecard allows you to take the guesswork out of making critical business decisions when it comes to an investment in lab automation and it is useful to help measure success over time.
Visit the ROI Calculator to see what return lab automation can achieve for your lab. If you have any questions, please do reach out at USinfo@meslo.com and we can walk you through the calculation.