With a defined goal and a list of priorities, you should identify the specific protocols and the associated steps you need to automate. Researching if your manual workflow has been automated can be helpful: ask kit manufacturers or robotics vendors for application notes and more information.
The first step is to map out each step of your desired workflow. Also note which steps of the workflow will be most impacted by automation and what steps will solve specific problems. Your needs and downstream applications will strongly influence the specific workflow. Understanding your sample types, processes and downstream needs is key and will help you better communicate your specific requirements and get the full benefit of your automation investment.
By mapping out your automated workflow, you can identify the specific steps and equipment needed to achieve that workflow. Here are some specific processes you may need to automate.
- Sample ID management, such as barcoding and tracking.
- Sample preparation.
- Analyte quantification with instruments like spectrophotometers, fluorometer or luminometers.
- Sample normalization.
- Assay setup, including library preparation or drug screening.
You can often find reported automation protocols that use sample types or assays that are relevant to your own project and will help you identify the processes you need to automate. By doing this background research, you can learn what to expect for throughput, required steps, processing time and more. While any single step in these protocols will require a minimum amount of time on an automated platform, they often scale well through parallel processes on larger platforms or by running multiple instruments simultaneously.
As you consider the specifics of your proposed workflow, keep in mind budget, whether you have robotics you can retrofit and if any steps can accept manual interventions.
You should also define the excess capacity you need from your automated system. This will help you plan what size and type of automated system you need.