Incorporating robots into the laboratory workplace is becoming more commonplace for several reasons. Laboratory robotics is when chemistry or biology labs implement the use of robots in their routines.

It is becoming common for laboratories to fully automate their work processes. Click here to discover how easy it can be to implement liquid handling robots in your lab.

The History of Laboratory Robotics

It may surprise you that the use of robots in the lab started in the 1980s when robotic arms that could be “controlled” by a computer were put to work in many of the tasks listed above.

While primarily used in shared spaces with their co-working humans, it was around the same time that the first independent robots were introduced in a lab that was programmed like a production line, incorporating automated analysis.

This soon led to a phenomenon known as Total Laboratory Automation or TLA.

While its high cost was a significant preventative factor in many labs adopting this working method, a more affordable variant of automated devices has recently been introduced, allowing laboratories to receive computerised data analysis and communication.

Types of Laboratory Robotics

Speaking of affordable lab robots, there are a couple things that laboratories tend to look for, thanks to their ease of use and affordability.
  1. The first is finding an economically priced robot. Robotic arms are trendy in this category.
  2. Secondly is hosting a robot that can communicate between different devices. One example is scripting, which allows robotic devices and other forms of automated analysis to be compatible with each other.
Some ways that robots are used in labs are often based on repetition.

This can include:
  • Testing
  • Moving
  • Mixing
  • Heating
  • Cooling
  • Additions

New Robotic Developments in Science

One recent development in the world of lab robotics is remote-controlled laboratories, where robots can work independently for long periods and can be controlled from outside the workspace.

Crystallization is a complex process that can take up to thousands of trials to create a suitable substance. Automated liquid handling robots have provided a solution to this lengthy process, where hundreds of thousands of different chemical products can be created and processed for testing.

Robots also lent a hand (excuse the pun) during the thick of the coronavirus, where they were used to analyse testing swabs and issue a diagnosis. The use of robots throughout this pandemic allowed medical staff time to focus on more urgent issues and increased testing numbers.

Robots have as well achieved great success in the pharmaceutical industry. The ability to automate adding, mixing and testing procedures has boosted the productivity of pharmaceuticals.

Purification of chemicals, also known as simulated distillation, has received a helping hand from robots. Robots have simplified this process faster with the possibility of working as automated.

How Robots Can Handle Samples in The Laboratory

Both chemical and biological samples are held in either tubes, vials, or plates. Plate samples, also called microtiter plates, can hold up to 1536 samples per plate. Laboratory robots commonly use microtiter plates to handle and observe examples by either transferring their content or expending liquid into each well.

Robotic advances have come so far that it is now quite famous for robots to handle all the dispersing and injecting of liquids into and between samples. As you might imagine, this frees up a lot of time for scientists who can focus on other projects and analyses.

How Robots Can Help a Laboratory Live Its Best Life

Here are three ways that you can implement robots in a laboratory in a way that can maximise your return on investment in laboratory robotics:
  1. Double up on your lab’s robotics by implementing automation to process and save testing results. Instead of leaving the collection and analysis to manual work, automating these processes can amplify the number of findings. Existing software can not only collect and process data samples but can produce quantified recommendations based on these findings.
  2. Make sure you have a clear goal at the end of the testing phase. Communicating this goal to your colleagues and analysing ways that this can be reached and how your lab robotics can help to achieve this in a measured way.
  3. Ensure that your robotics automation is programmed to work in a linear pathway. Coordinating each automated process can help strengthen your findings and speed up the testing process, boosting your workflow's efficiency.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Robots in the Lab

Advantages. A massive benefit to introducing robots in the lab is a shorter routine time, such as processing samples. As automation allows for quick repetition of testing and the like, not only is sampling getting done faster, but it also allows lesser room for error.

Moreso, as robots don’t have human needs such as sleep, meals and general upkeep, robots can generally keep going for a prolonged time. This can provide substantial positive results in anything from testing and accidents such as material waste.

Humans are also provided with a safer work environment as they can now avoid working with toxic and dangerous chemicals. And they are potentially happier as they can focus on arguably more meaningful things such as analysis and new discoveries.

Disadvantages. Like most things in life, there are some disadvantages to employing robots in the laboratory. Robots can generally be expensive, so if you aren’t provided with comfortable funding or capital, your choices might be quite limited.

When starting up, automation programming can also be costly to set up and take a lot of time. On top of it, a considerable number of processes haven’t already been pre-programmed. Job shortages for humans may, unfortunately, arise as well.