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Lab Automation Networks Proliferating


Although it may still seem radically innovative in the context of many clinical laboratories, automated production in the manufacturing sector had been the norm for many years. In automobile assembly, for example, automated lines fabricate sub-assemblies and entire vehicles with only occasional human oversight. The result has been vastly improved products, far fewer defects, and significant positive returns in profit and productivity. These days, only a handful of luxury and sports cars are still made by handfeaturing beautiful craftsmanshipand truly staggering prices.

In laboratory science, however, a technician-intensive work process has remained commonplace. Some labs are now aggressively catching up. Dwindling reimbursements, evolving technology and the persistent shortage of qualified technologists have stimulated decisions to automate an increasing number of pre-analytic functions or distinct workcell areas. Several hundred clinical labs worldwide have even taken the giant stride of converting to total laboratory automation, based on strong evidence that automation not only heightens profitability but also improves quality, timeliness and lab flexibility.

Pre-analytical processing is one of the most labor-intensive aspects of clinical work, occupying up to two-thirds of the total time spent by personnel on clinical laboratory procedures. Many labs are choosing to automate gradually, beginning with this front end of the test cyclesorting, decapping, barcode labeling, placing sample tubes in racks that may originate from a wide range of manufacturers, aliquoting, and centrifuging.

Among the major medical device companies that are producing equipment in this category, Tecan Group, Ltd., Zurich, Switzerland, manufactures the Genesis FE500, which combines all pre-analytical functions including pre-sorting, centrifugation, volume check and clot detection, decapping, secondary tube labeling, aliquoting and destination sorting into analyzer
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