One of the main objectives of microbiology laboratories is to offer a higher quality of service to patients in a quick and agile way. To this end, in recent years, the sector has been facing a significant challenge: to consolidate laboratory automation in its processes.
Joan Ariño, Technical Director of SENER Diagnostics, gives us the keys to this global process and explains the role of systems engineering in this evolutionary phase.
1- Tell us a little about your work as Technical Director at SENER Diagnostics
Essentially, my responsibilities cover two broad areas.
The first of these involves the preparation of innovative new proposals that will lead to value-added products for our clients. For this task, we work in close coordination with the marketing and business development team, discussing new ideas that can be taken to market to generate real added value for end users.
My second area of responsibility is the technical coordination of the team from the conceptualisation of the system through to the manufacture of the instrument, guaranteeing that the new product meets its functional requirements and that it is well received by the market.
2- What can systems engineering bring to the laboratory?
Microbiology laboratories are faced by the challenge of consolidating the automation of many of their processes. Even if laboratories are extremely diverse and complex, we have the technology to transform them and offer patients a faster, higher quality service. At SENER Diagnostics, we want to play a key role in this process of consolidation.
Our contribution to this challenge from process engineering is, to use a simile, to be the chefs of engineering.
On the one hand, we must acquire detailed knowledge of the market and our clients’ needs, and on the other hand, we must be up to date with the new technologies available (and under development).
With these two ingredients, we conceptualise the system which best suits the market and generates the greatest added value for end users.
At SENER Diagnostics, we base this conceptualisation process (or recipe, to continue the simile) on a patient-centred approach – a holistic perspective that integrates the various user parts of the system – and on the creation of modular systems that cover the greatest number of laboratory types.
It is through this approach and conceptualisation process that we are able to generate value propositions for our clients.
3- Why is it essential to automate laboratory processes?
At SENER Diagnostics, we see automation as an option that is available, rather than something that is obligatory or essential, so that laboratories can give their technicians tasks of greater added value thanks to the automation of repetitive and tedious low-value processes.
Technology currently exists that supports the redesign of lab workflows, making it possible not only to improve the speed and quality of results, but also to equip laboratories with new tools that will substantially increase the effectiveness and traceability of these workflows.
We believe that automation must generate value
4- How can systems engineering be used to identify areas for improvement in the activity of a laboratory? Could you provide an example by way of explanation?
As we mentioned earlier, at SENER Diagnostics we analyse areas for improvement together with the marketing/business development department and systems engineering. Innovative ideas are often the result of bringing different perspectives together.
It is not possible to propose new ideas without having detailed knowledge of how the laboratory operates. Each workflow is unique and although similar problems may exist, it is necessary to analyse each case individually.
The solutions that we can offer a hospital microbiology laboratory, although similar to others, require some details that may not be necessary in a non-hospital laboratory. The same applies to the field of industrial microbiology, where solutions for contamination control in cleanrooms may differ from solutions for cosmetics or food manufacturing control.
One example would be the AUTOPLAK sample streaking and preparation system, currently marketed by Beckman Coulter, which was created in response to deficiencies in the market and following an exhaustive analysis of the processes and workloads to be found in laboratories.
5- How is the information that you collect channelled to develop new solutions for the laboratory?
At SENER Diagnostics, we work with a client-focused culture.
This methodology covers the entire client value and interaction chain, from the initial marketing and sales stage through to aftersales service. This global view of business means that all the client stages can be traced and we can provide feedback to our operations with information about each stage.
The new value propositions are generated by drawing on information from several sources in the cycle: market trends, appearance of new techniques or technologies, quality and client satisfaction reports…
6- Turning to the everyday work of the laboratory, how can the systems engineering department help laboratories to speed up data analysis in the processes of reception, validation and delivery of results?
One of our premises is not to take anything for granted. The fact that a process has been carried out in a particular way for many years does not mean that this is the best way of doing it.
On the other hand, we must conceptualise systems that integrate the various processes from pre-analytics to reading and identification. It is only by making a comprehensive analysis of the workflow (which does not always involve automating the entire process) that optimised systems and tangible results can be obtained for users.
Finally, laboratories have a considerable contribution to make. Their investigations usually provide an opportunity for a reappraisal of the workflows, preparing the way for possible new systems that will ultimately speed up and improve the results and the service received by the patient, the final, all-important objective of everything we do.
7- How can Big Data, in parallel with automation, help the laboratory to be more efficient? How are information and processes combined?
The appearance of new technology always represents an opportunity to improve systems and products. It is both logical and frequent that the adoption of a new technology should create misgivings and have its detractors. Even so, if the contribution it makes really offers added value, it will always end up being adopted.
At SENER Diagnostics, we always work under the premise of providing added value, pursuing a disruptive vision of the market. Thus, we ensure that we are up to date with new technologies and we surround ourselves with a technological and scientific ecosystem within which we can acquire knowledge to make this vision a reality.
Artificial intelligence (in all its modalities), Big Data and digital bacteriology are all areas that we believe can create value in the future design of solutions for microbiology laboratories. This said, they must be adopted and implemented gradually to allow laboratory technicians to become familiar with them.
8- Where is systems engineering applied to solutions for laboratory automation leading to? How will this area evolve in the next few years?
Systems engineering is key to consolidating the transformation of this type of laboratory.
We must develop systems that foster the efficient adoption of new technologies, creating instruments that are clearly focused on the needs and uses of these laboratories.
Today, there are countless disciplines and technologies that are mature enough to be reliably integrated into an instrument. One of the great challenges faced by systems engineering is to define the optimum technological mix for each application.
We are all users of microbiology laboratories in one way or another, and this is why we can see their automation from both a professional and a personal perspective. To play a part in improving the speed and quality of their results is a truly motivating challenge.
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