Unlock your lab space

Daniel Siden: Why automation is key to unlocking lab space


3rd February 2023 Daniel Siden

The UK Government has set out a 10-year vision to make the UK a world leader in life sciences, and companies around the country have ambitious goals of doubling or even tripling output in novel areas from genomics to synthetic biology. However, there’s a major challenge that could be hindering its success – there isn’t enough space available for fast-scaling organisations to expand their operations.

There’s a major challenge that could be hindering lab’s success – there isn’t enough space available for fast-scaling organisations to expand their operations

Recent data by property consultancy firm Bidwells found that availability for labs in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc was close to zero at times last year, while the demand for space surged by a quarter in the first half of 2022. This means that the thriving life sciences sector is at risk of experiencing a slowdown simply because there is no space to do cutting-edge work. As a result, investors could be turning their heads to other cities, such as Boston in the US, that are rich in life sciences institutions and have millions of square feet in lab space immediately available.

To keep life sciences in the UK growing, the country needs to unlock new lab capacity to keep up with the demand in the sector, overcoming the limitations of physical space by extracting greater value per square metre of lab space. By utilising the power of open, integrated automation solutions that optimise the use of lab devices and physical space in a lab, lab technicians can unlock their spaces and achieve great things even in a small footprint.

By utilising the power of open, integrated automation solutions, lab technicians can unlock their spaces and achieve great things even in a small footprint

Unlocking potential by embracing automation

For too long, lab automation solutions have typically been bulky, complex and expensive – meaning only the largest labs could access them. In order to improve throughput in labs, the immediate solution was to hire more scientists and technicians. However, when lab space is at such a premium, adding more laboratory workers often isn’t a viable option.

Optimising the efficiency of workspaces is essential to igniting the flame of scientific breakthroughs, and with this approach, Automata is helping to shape the future of labs. Adopting these efficient processes and maximising the footprint of a lab starts by embracing an interoperable and modular model. Across today’s labs, automation tools are far more accessible and can be designed to meet the needs of labs of any size and at any stage of their automation journey. In fact, there are now automated lab benches which have the exact same footprint as a regular bench. Due to this, a smart bench can be easily installed, providing a lab with all the automation it needs without any additional space constraints.

In addition, these solutions have been designed to be completely open, meaning humans can work safely alongside the automated bench – no need for clunky barriers or big enclosures wasting the limited space available. Utilising this means lab equipment has the power to deliver the greatest output possible, maximising the lab floor to its highest capabilities.

Another benefit of automated solutions is the ability to give back precious time to overworked employees. Automated systems can work 24/7, meaning technicians aren’t required to work into the evenings to ensure processes get completed. Even after employees clock off, automated systems can continue running, making the most of the space by adding additional operating hours. Of course, some automations do still require multiple human touchpoints along the workflow cycle, but many are able to run independently without human contact. This then frees up employees’ time, reducing the risk of burnout and allowing them to focus on more creative tasks during their working hours.

Automata’s fully automated lab bench with genomics QC workflow

Automata has pioneered innovative solutions to unlock space, using our new approach to automation: open, integrated automation. These solutions make it possible to unlock existing space, increase levels of activity, all while freeing up scientists’ time and energy to work on more innovative research. For start-ups in particular, making better use of small lab spaces in this way will be critical to scale.

Taking a modular approach to unlocking lab space

A modular approach is particularly important for unlocking more lab space. This means that labs can flex the technology as its needs and functions change. For example, a single automated station can perform multiple processes – from liquid handling to thermocycling – whilst keeping labs running efficiently. These solutions can be easily taken apart, put back together, or altered to fit new needs. Automata’s modular automation solutions not only empower labs to unlock space, but also to challenge the norm and discover new ways of working.

These automation-enabled benches are a bit like a Lego set. The benches can be easily configured together in a number of different shapes to suit any lab space – particularly if labs are smaller or have awkward shapes to work around. 

By optimising the same piece of kit to carry out new tasks when needed, labs can continue to meet the rising demand for new drugs and medicines, keeping up with product life cycles as they become shorter. This ensures the UK is at the forefront of life sciences for years to come, all while making the most of limited lab space available. And, since automation can improve throughput and scale, labs can be flexible and change and adapt what they’re being used for.

Open, integrated automation ensures the UK is at the forefront of life sciences for years to come, all while making the most of limited lab space available.

Unlocking a brighter future for scientific advancement

From leading COVID-19 research to cancer vaccines, world-class science is happening across the UK right now. For that to continue, labs need to unlock their limited space. Having lab space is essential for bringing to market the innovations of tomorrow at pace – from cell-cultured meat and crops to life-saving drugs and vaccines – and with the right technology, scientists can unlock the space they already have.

Working with a partner like Automata to implement automated solutions that are modular and integrated allows scientists to be more flexible in their approach as their needs shift – ultimately, allowing them to scale and compete with life sciences organisations globally.