Elements of Laboratory Technology Management



Joe Liscouski
10/03/2012

Most discussions in conferences concerning lab automation and systems, focus on products and technologies. What is lacking is an understanding of the full scope of pharma technology management concerns in modern labs. It is a matter of knowing the technologies, how they relate to each other, and how you might use them.  If lab automation is going to advance to the level of a discipline, which it needs to if we are going to take advantage of the capabilities available, it needs structure. 

That structure should give us an overview of the major functional elements that go into designing, planning, implementing and managing laboratory systems. The graphic below is a representation of one structure of laboratory technology management. As a high-level view, it covers:

• Management issues
• Classes of systems implementations
• Experimental methods
• Lab specific technologies
• Information technologies
• Systems integration
 



Each element would have sub-levels going into as much detail as needed.  There is also a need for cross-referencing elements that have been omitted to avoid having the structure obscured by a mass of inter-element links.  While some of those links are common to all labs, many are a function of an individual lab’s design.

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One point that is immediately obvious is that there is a lot more to laboratory work than technologies.  Under “management” there are skills concerns; people need to understand more than science to be successful in lab work. That includes people specifically educated to design and develop lab technology systems.

“Classes of Implementation” contains something most haven’t seen: Scientific Manufacturing / Production; the convergence of lab technologies of sample management-sample prep-analysis-reporting into a smoothly running system (how do we do that?).

There is the need to develop automated experimental/test methods.  Some exist, but most procedures are designed by assuming that people are doing the science; can we convert those to processes that include the needed technologies so that an implementer can have at least guidelines for choosing equipment that will function instead of every implementation being a research project.

“Lab Specific Technologies”  lists only lab-unique elements.  Barcode technology, which is not limited to lab work, would be a sub-heading under “Classes of Implementation” since it is a tool used in system development.  Items such as process analysis, control, optimization, and management are included here, even though  they exist in manufacturing and chemical engineering, because the technologies and body of knowledge needed to apply them to lab work are unique.

“Information Technologies” are included because that is something that anyone dealing with lab systems has to be aware of.  Understanding the options that are available helps lab management choose between implementation methods.  The “that’s IT’s issue” approach doesn’t work, IT certainly has a role and to be fully effective the work needs to be a partnership between lab management & staff, LAB IT specialists, and corporate management. 

Lab management has to be aware of what the choices and their ramifications are to make sound decisions on implementation directions.  “Client-server systems” for example, are one common method of implementing instrument data systems; what are the benefits compared to other technologies?

“Virtualization” can have significant benefits when it is time to install or update informatics systems, do you understand how they can improve the process?  Lab management also has to be aware of the ramifications of on-siate vs. cloud implementations of products – some may fit the IT organization’s needs more than they benefit the labs.

The last element – Systems Integration – covers the major points that need to be addressed.  Integration is a common requirement in many projects, and it needs to be evaluated realistically; in many cases the architectural means to achieve it aren’t there.

The fact that a structure exists doesn’t mean we have all the answers, but it helps us understand where work needs to be done, and gives us a mechanism for organizing what we do know.  Much of what the Institute for Laboratory Automation does is going to use this structure as a means of organizing courses and other work.

For more information, please visit: http://www.institutelabauto.org/publications/ELTM.html