As we have explained in previous articles, each lab automation project requires a specific focus in which, first of all, having analysed the needs and workflows, it is important to determine the added value that automation will bring to a particular project. Automation alone is not sufficient. Value must be integrated.
Today, we will talk about the differences and synergies between clinical and industrial lab automation.
During this first period of analysis and once the value delivered by automation has been confirmed, an evaluation is made of the alternative technologies to be integrated into the future instrument, taking account of the instrument’s context of use (see the importance of the role of the systems engineer in the previous article ). In this respect, there are significant differences depending on the segment at which the instrument is aimed, although, in the same way, technological synergies between the clinical and the industrial sector must be considered.
What differences and synergies in automation exist according to the type of laboratory?
Due to the different characteristics and objectives of each type of laboratory, there are some important differences between the automation of clinical microbiology labs and the automation of industrial quality control labs, such as pharmaceutical or food quality control labs. These differences can be seen in:
- Regulations and standards: Clinical microbiology labs are subject to specific regulations and standards, such as those established by health regulatory bodies, in order to guarantee the quality and accuracy of the results. On the other hand, quality control labs – pharmaceutical quality control labs, for example – are subject to even stricter regulations, such as Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), which are applied to guarantee the quality, safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical products.
- Objectives and variability of samples: In a clinical microbiology lab, the main objective is the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases in patients. Analyses are made of clinical samples (blood, urine, faeces and tissue cultures…), in order to identify pathogenic microorganisms and determine their sensitivity to antimicrobials. In contrast, in an industrial quality control lab, the objective is to guarantee the quality and safety of the products and other related products. Samples of finished products, raw materials and manufacturing environments are analysed, in order to detect the presence of microbial contaminants and to ensure compliance with the established regulations and standards.
- Volume and variety of samples: Clinical microbiology labs often handle a large volume of samples of different kinds, since they attend to a wide range of patients (primary health care, hospitals…). This involves a high workload and the need to process samples quickly and efficiently. In comparison, industrial quality control labs may handle a smaller volume of samples, but they may have to deal with a greater variety of sample matrices, due to the diversity of pharmaceutical products and substances that have to be analysed. This difference may vary significantly depending on the type of clinical or industrial lab.
- Response times: In clinical microbiology labs, speed in obtaining results is crucial to diagnosis and the appropriate treatment of patients (sepsis is a good example here). Automation is mainly focused on speeding up processes and reducing response times. In industrial quality control labs, response times are also increasingly important, but they can be more flexible, since these laboratories are more oriented towards checking the quality and safety of the product prior to its distribution in the market.
Although there are differences in the objectives and focus of clinical microbiology labs and industrial quality control labs, there are also synergies in their automation and overlapping areas in which both types of laboratory can benefit. Examples here are:
- Analysis technology: Clinical and industrial quality control labs increasingly share similar analysis technologies, such as PCR, ELISA, spectrophotometry and chromatography, among others. The automation of common analytical processes can open the door to the exchange of methods and techniques between both types of laboratory, which can lead to greater efficiency and standardisation in the results.
- Data management systems: Both types of laboratory generate large quantities of data. The implementation of automated and centralised data management systems can facilitate the storage, organisation and analysis of the data generated in both types of laboratory. This can improve the traceability of results, speed up the production of reports, and identify trends and potential problems.
- Validation and quality control: Both clinical and industrial quality control labs are subject to regulations and standards related with the validation of methods and quality control. Automation can help in the implementation of standardised and controlled processes, which facilitates the validation of methods and ensures the integrity of the data generated. Quality control protocols can also be shared and adapted between both types of laboratory, taking advantage of best practices and experience acquired.
- Training and human resources: Automation in both types of laboratory may require the training of specialist staff in the use and maintenance of automated systems. Sharing knowledge and experience with regard to the implementation and operation of automated equipment can benefit both types of laboratory and help to optimise the use of human resources, one of automation’s best-known advantages.
In conclusion, although clinical microbiology labs and industrial quality control labs have a different focus, synergies in automation can deliver added value in terms of analysis technology, data management, validation and quality control, and human resources. Collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and good practice between both types of laboratory can lead to improvements in the efficiency, accuracy and quality of results. Contact us to know more >