College of American Pathologists

  Lab automation—open, modular, informatics-focused


CAP Today




September 2010
Feature Story

Brendan Dabkowski

Purchasers of clinical laboratory automation solutions demand systems capable of adding new features and modules as their needs develop or budgets allow, or both. As such, makers of laboratory automation systems and workcells, the focus of this month’s product guide, are designing and marketing products that are flexible as well as efficient and easy to use.

Rodney S. Markin, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and microbiology and interim dean of the College of Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, has been developing laboratory automation solutions for more than 20 years. “What we’re seeing now is a resurgence of open automation systems,” he told CAP TODAY. First, he says, lab automation technology was independent. The technology was then integrated into software. After this, he says, in vitro diagnostics manufacturers used automation technology to tie customers to specific reagents. It has since progressed to “folks realizing that they have to have an open-architecture automation system just like we have open-architecture information technology systems.” Miriam Hoelzel, PVT LabSystems’ president and CEO, agrees, adding that customers need as many options as possible and seek solutions that allow them to be “flexible in their dependencies from one supplier to another.”

At PVT, the latest automation solution is the Low Throughput Sorting System Kolibri, which will be available by the end of the year, Hoelzel says. Designed for low- to medium-volume processing, the system performs decapping, sorting, and archiving in front- and back-end processes, while enabling the use of common tube types and racks. Introduced earlier this year was the Pick & Place Pro module, which transfers tubes from a PVT sorting or aliquoting system to a third-party track or analyzer. And available since late last year is the Infrared Laser Module for Liquid Level Detection, which detects quantities of centrifuged serum and plasma and urine samples for doing aliquots on the company’s Aliquoting System RSA Pro, Hoelzel says.

Newly available from Sysmex America is the RU-10 reagent delivery unit, which delivers concentrated reagent to multiple instruments. Designed for high-volume laboratories, says Nilam Patel, MT(ASCP)SH, senior product manager, automation solutions, the RU-10 will allow high-volume labs to reduce system interactions for reagent changes, decrease inventory space requirements, and improve work environments. “Because there are fewer operator interactions with moving, loading, and unloading of reagent, this system will provide relief to operators,” she says. The company continues to refine and expand its line of Lavender Top Management/Intelligent Automation solutions.

Modularity is top of mind at Motoman Robotics Division of Yas­kawa America, which in the past year has developed transportation interfaces for its AutoSorter II and III specimen processing instruments. These interfaces allow operators to use the AutoSorters as stand-alone or connected devices, which, says Motoman’s Craig Rubenstein, life science technology leader, “further enables Motoman to configure automation solutions to meet the needs of each lab.” The company now sells RFID-equipped conveyor systems, which speed the identification and routing of samples and boost overall throughput. In 2011, he says, the company plans to offer a modular decapper, recapper, and aliquoter with conveyor connectivity.

At Abbott Diagnostics, the focus in automation is on enhancing informatics as well as improving operational efficiency, says Amelia Presley, U.S. product manager, automation and informatics. “Most customers want to increase the level of productivity of their IT systems and improve autoverification rates,” she says, noting that many labs are short on staff and time. Abbott now provides informatics professional services and autoverification consulting services to help automation customers with IT or middleware solutions, or both. Earlier this year, the company added a desealer module to its Accelerator APS modular laboratory automation system. The module “pulls the environmentally friendly foil seals from stored tubes, thus completing the full specimen-handling process,” Presley says. In the works is an ali­quoter module for pre- and postanalytical processing.

New connectivity options are the latest at Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, according to Troy Galloway, senior director, automation. ­Siemens’ Dimension Vista 1500 chemis­try/ immunoassay lab system now connects to Advia automation systems. The company recently introduced a high-speed centrifuge module for Advia automation solutions and a refrigerated storage module for StreamLab automation solutions, and its VersaCell automation system now connects with Advia Centaur immunoassay systems, the Advia 1800 chemis­try system, and Immulite immu­no­assay analyzers. “By connecting to stand-alone instruments, the VersaCell system provides scalability with a low-risk investment,” says Galloway, who adds that the system also combines menu consolidation with advanced sample automation, including individual and direct sample routing for “more control and immediate sample accessibility.” Next year, the company plans to launch connectivity options for the Dimension RxL and EXL integrated systems.

Finally, Sarstedt continues to market its modular PVS sample distribution system, to which it earlier this year added the Bulk Loader Module. The module eliminates manual sorting and racking for PVS system users, says Peter Rumswinkel, the company’s vice president and general manager. “Tubes are simply ‘dumped’ into a hopper for walk-away processing; the Bulk Loader then sorts them and places them onto the processing track,” he says. The module is compatible with all 65- to 100-mm long and 13- to 16-mm diameter push- and screw-cap tubes, he adds. Also recently added to the PVS system is the Recapper 1200 S, which quickly and safely recaps up to 1,200 screw-cap tubes per hour.

CAP TODAY’s guide to laboratory automation systems and workcells includes products from the aforementioned manufacturers and from Aim Lab, Beckman Coulter, Integrated Laboratory Automation Solutions, Labotix, m-u-t America, Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics, and Roche Diagnostics. Companies supplied the information listed. Readers interested in a particular system should confirm it has the stated features and capabilities.

Brendan Dabkowski is CAP TODAY associate editor.