Science fiction has taught us that in the very near future, humanoid robots—people-like machines with a thinking computer in place of a human brain—will replace us not just in the workplace, but as a species. While it’s certainly true that technology has come a very long way, enough that many scientific and philosophical luminaries have begun debating on the subject of a ‘robot apocalypse,’ it is still undeniable that the introduction of automated machines in the workplace has made our jobs much easier.
Thanks to automation, tasks that used to take a lot of time, resources, and manpower to carry out can now be done at a fraction of the cost and effort as well as with pin-point precision and accuracy. And nowhere are these benefits more needed than in the professional medical laboratory, where automated analyzer technology has proven to be quite indispensable and essential.
What is an automated analyzer?
An automated analyzer is just what its name implies – an automated machine that performs high-precision analysis on solid, liquid or gaseous substances for purposes of clinical chemistry. Components such as high-precision micro motors for automated analyzers, precision linear and rotary motion systems, as well as computerized controls allow the analyzer to perform the analysis on its own without human intervention. All it needs is the set of instructions to work with, the settings and parameters of the analysis, and the samples that it has to analyze. With those supplied, a lab technician or employee just has to press a few buttons before waiting for the machine to finish the procedure and release the results of the analysis.
What are the benefits of an automated analyzer?
The benefits of an automated analyzer to a laboratory are anchored upon in its ability to perform high-volume processing tasks on its own, with minimal participation from the laboratory staff. This not only decreases the turnaround time for sample processing tasks—thus enabling the laboratory itself to take up more work—but it also decreases the strain on the laboratory’s resources.
The automated nature of the analyzer also ensures that the usually complicated and painstaking analysis procedures are performed perfectly every single time no matter how many times the task itself has been repeated. This eliminates the chance of human error that usually arises in manual analysis, where certain steps and procedures may be performed wrongly or omitted entirely—especially when it comes to a high-volume, high-repetition workloads.
New breakthroughs in automated analyzer designs have also ensured that medical staff are protected from being exposed to samples during operation, increasing the safety of the laboratory.
What kinds of automated analyzers exist?
The growing demands in the medical and healthcare industry has necessitated the creation of different types of analyzers, each one specializing in a particular task or examination. Here are some of them:
- Routine biochemistry analyzer: the standard automated analyzer that processes the largest portion of samples in a hospital or medical laboratory. This type is involved with analyzing samples required for liver function tests (enzyme levels) and kidney function tests (sodium, potassium, glucose, serum albumin, and creatinine).
- Immuno-based analyzer: the automated analyzer type that uses antibodies to detect substances by immunoassay. These, of course, are used to detect diseases and disorders such as cancer, hepatitis, the presence of blood clots as well as fertility problems. It also facilitates tests that detect the use of illegal drugs.
- Hematology analyzer: the automated analyzer type that performs tests on blood samples, such as complete blood counts, erythrocyte sedimentation levels or coagulation tests.
Automated analyzer limitations
While certainly useful, the automated analyzer is still a machine. It can break down from time to time, especially if regular maintenance is neglected, or if its operated by inexperienced staff. Automated analyzers can also be cost-prohibitive at the outset, especially for those designed to perform tests that are more esoteric and less common, such as DNA labeling and detection. Finally, medical personnel are still required to interpret the analysis results, as the automated analyzer can only supply them with partial information based on its findings. Despite these obvious cons, however, the fact remains that automated analyzers can significantly increase productivity in the laboratory, and with a trained staff on hand, can certainly pay for itself in the long run.