College of American Pathologists
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  Lab automation—total tube management and more


CAP Today




September 2011
Feature Story

Brendan Dabkowski

Just as resourceful, perceptive, and hard-working are positive traits in an employee, flexible, interoperable, and open-architecture are positive traits of a lab automation system. And the latter are the adjectives vendors use to describe what their customers want in laboratory automation systems and workcells.

Lab automation solutions must be increasingly flexible, says Sarstedt’s vice president and general manager Peter Rumswinkel, who adds that his company builds platforms with only the necessary components, saving laboratories money and floor space. Additional components can be added later, he says. For example, Sarstedt recently added to its PVS 1625 modular lab automation system a screw-cap recapper module, which places a screw cap on compatible aliquot tubes. Also new this year is the Bulk Loader 2000, a standalone unit that accessions and sorts up to 2,000 capped tubes per hour into one of eight “target bins” that staff can unload at any time without stopping the system.

“The best automation solutions on the market today are those that can grow with a lab’s needs, maintain consistent uptime, and fluidly perform during peak workloads,” says Dave Hickey, CEO of the chemistry, immunoassay, automation, and informatics business unit, Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics. Siemens continues to market its high-performance Advia automation solutions as well as the compact StreamLab solution, to which it has added a refrigerated storage module that automates sample archiving. Available too is the Versa- Cell automation system, which now connects to the company’s Dimension EXL with LM, Dimension EXL 200, and Dimension RxL Max integrated chemistry analyzers. Total tube management—tracking all aspects of a tube’s life from the time it arrives in the lab until it is archived to help manage pre- and postanalytical processes more efficiently—is an important development in automation and one that Siemens takes into account in designing and updating its solutions, Hickey says.

Another company paying mind to total tube management—or as senior product manager of automation solutions Nilam Patel, MT?(ASCP)SH, terms it, “tube-specific automation”—is Sysmex Corp. The company’s Lavender Top Management/Intelligent automation solution has been available for more than three years. In addition to consolidating multiple testing workstations, thereby freeing up laboratory staff, the product provides advanced clinical parameters in routine hematology testing, reduces patient sample draw volumes, and standardizes sample and clinical data decisions via Sysmex’s WAM software. Introduced last year and now available on the company’s HST-N hematology automation system is the RU-10 reagent dilution system. The RU-10 is for very-high–volume commercial labs. It automatically dilutes and delivers concentrated reagent to multiple hematology analyzers, Patel says.

Roche Diagnostics acquired PVT LabSystems in March, increasing to seven the number of lab automation systems marketed by Roche. The PVT systems, which soon will be rebranded under the Cobas name, are standalone, high-speed products that provide sorting, archiving, aliquotting, decapping, recapping, and other functions. Roche will launch this fall a centrifugation module for its RSA and RSD Pro systems. Next year, the company will debut its Cobas p312, a low-end standalone automation system, as “an entry-level solution that we feel smaller community hospitals will be able to take advantage of,” says group marketing manager Pete Van Overwalle. The Cobas p312 has a 12-sq.-ft. footprint, which will help labs address space limitations, and it will be able to sort 450 tubes per hour into a variety of racks, he says.

Yaskawa America’s Motoman Robotics Division has in the past year added to its AutoSorter II and III automation systems its ALPS specimen processing management software and conveyors. The latter use single-tube carriers equipped with radiofrequency identification, says Craig Rubenstein, life science technology leader. The company will soon enhance its lineup with its next-generation AutoSorter, which Rubenstein says will have increased throughput, greater sorting capacity, a smaller footprint, and lower cost. It is designed for smaller lab spaces and will operate as a standalone sorter or an input or output device on an integrated system, says Rubenstein, who expects the product to be available in late 2011 or early 2012.

Embracing the open-architecture concept is Labotix. Many laboratories are “moving away from the risk of one-stop shopping with a single vendor,” says vice president of sales Peter J. Manes. “They want the ability to mix and match the best-of-breed analyzers from their preferred vendors without incurring the cost of concurrently changing their automation.” Included in Labotix’s product line are automated loaders, centrifuges, and refrigerated storage units. The company, which released its Labotix automation system in 1991, will soon introduce its LabConnect system, which Manes says will be able to process and track specimens remotely.

Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics’ enGen laboratory automation solution has been available since 2001. The system provides a single point of entry, decapping, centrifugation, and automatic load balancing between multiple analyzers for all samples run on the company’s Vitros systems. Automation can be added in most laboratories to increase tube-handling capacity and better predict turnaround time while reducing the potential for errors, says Colin Hill, the company’s worldwide director of systems and automation marketing.

Beckman Coulter has enhanced the performance of its Power Processor sample-handling system by connecting it with the AU680, AU2700, and AU5400 chemistry analyzers, says Erik Johnson, director of product management, clinical automation, and information systems. Still available from Beckman are the AutoMate sample-processing systems, which can process up to 1,200 tubes per hour and can be equipped with an optional parafilm recapper for archiving. Available too are the company’s i Class integrated system workcells, which perform integrated chemistry and immunoassay testing from a single point of sample entry.

Aim Lab, which continues to offer its PathFinder 350S and PathFinder 900 solutions, will introduce next year its PathFinder 350A Archiver for postanalytic sorting, capping, and archiving of sample tubes, says business manager Ralph Donaldson.

And finally, Abbott Diagnostics is developing an aliquoter module for its Accelerator APS, as well as a standalone aliquoter/sorter, says Michelle Johnson, senior manager of public affairs.

CAP TODAY’s guide to laboratory automation systems and workcells includes products from the aforementioned companies and from Integrated Laboratory Automation Solutions and M-u-t America. 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.

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