A little while ago I said I would summarise the potential quality benefits of “Total Lab Automation” (TLA) systems (e.g. Kiestra, Biomeurieux, Copan Wasp). You might be involved in a business case for one for your own laboratory. Even if you are a trainee, this is the sort of stuff I would be asking in an exam question, not the nuances of the CAMP test.…
I have summarised what I think are the main advantages below. Please feel free to add any extra you can think of in the comments section.
- Plate Tracking: Each plate has a comprehensive electronic audit trail attached to it, including when it was inoculated, incubated, imaged and read, and by whom.
- Less menial tasks: Gets rid of finding appropriate plates for each sample, carrying the plates to and from the incubator, “putting up” of specimens, and other repetitive, manual tasks.
- Better plate spreading. Automated spreading performed by machine will almost always succeed in better use of the whole agar plate and improved isolation of single colonies. It will also be a standardised procedure.
- Less plate contamination: As the plate has less manual handling and less time spent with its lid off, the risk of plate contamination is much reduced, which is very important for those “sterile site” specimens.
- Storage of digital images of plates. Plates eventually deteriorate, images do not, and images can be stored to be viewed again at any satge in the future depending on how long you want to store them for.
- Standardised incubation times. No matter when the plate was inoculated, the system will image the plate after a pre-set incubation time, and thus allow plate reading. This in turn will allow reduction in turnaround times for specimens. The old concept of Day 1, Day 2 etc plate reading should disappear and be replaced by 1st reading, 2nd reading….
- Less time out of the incubator. the plate goes straight into the incubator when it is inoculated, and essentailly stays in the incubator whilst it is being examined. No hanging around and very little downtime.
- Remote plate reading: The system should allow you to view the plate images from anywhere, including home.
- Plate checking: As the person reading the digital image is usually different from the person doing any further work-up, it allows the plate to be checked in case something was missed initially.
- Plate interpretation: This is still in the developmental stage but software is now available allowing rapid detection of plates with no growth, and plates with colonies of a particular colour. Further development in such software will eventually lead to massive gains in efficiency.
I am sure there are others I have not thought about off the top of my head, but it’s a start that you can add to.
Sounds like a no-brainer. However one must balance all these advantages against two main disadvantages. These disadvantages essentially apply to all forms of automation.
- Redundancy of staff: Whether staff are made redundant or not due to the implementation of such a system, the fact is that this type of automation will get through more specimens with less staff required. Some (managers) might see this as an advantage, but from a people point of view it is a big downside.
- What happens if it breaks down? Because of the above, and because it is a complex operation, the consequences can be severe if the system goes down for any length of time….