Martin: In addition to carrying out the tests, automation has also made tracking the results much faster and easier. Normally when you think of lab work, you think of people playing with Bunsen burners and having to write everything in a lab notebook. Now that we’ve digitalized the tests, we can store the information with Albert, our cloud-based software for product development processes. Once I create a task in the machine, Albert will pick up the task number and test results and upload the data in a zip file, which is then available for other researchers around the world.
Another advantage of our automatic assistants is that they remove human error caused by tiredness, or even minor changes in the environment, like the temperature of your own hand. In case of a failed experiment, it’s also much easier to trace and identify the potential sources of error.
4. What does a typical workday with the automated assistants in place look like for you?
Martin: As a technician for the automated lab, my tasks include programming the machines according to what they should be doing and conducting regular maintenance checks. This maintenance also includes finding out ways to make testing processes smoother. However, the equipment has its limitations and that’s where I step in. Many people think that the machine and the test will work with the simple push of a button. But it takes some tinkering to get the robots to run the test the way it should. One time, it took me a full workday to get the robot to measure the sample correctly, since it must be told specifically how it should run the tests. The robots don’t have visual sensors that tell them how to handle a sample. Once the setting is saved, though, it’s in the software memory forever so it can be reused continuously.
I’ve always had a passion for finding weak links in processes. There’s an element of detective work needed to find out where the problem is and to figure out how to fix it. Essentially, I find the rough patches and sand them down like a toy racetrack, until the car I send down the line doesn’t slow down anymore or get thrown for a loop.