Laboratories across the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries have faced unprecedented challenges in recent years, related to staffing shortages and increasing testing volumes. These challenges, combined with social distancing restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have placed in-lab research time at a premium. Increasingly, labs are needing to do more with less. With lessons learned from the pandemic, organizations are rallying to digitize data and processes to increase resilience to external shocks and improve their levels of digital and automation maturity. This digitization process presents an opportunity to audit the day-to-day operations within your lab to identify bottlenecks and future-proof your organization. Doing ‘more with less’ is at the core of this process and can be achieved through the use of automation instruments – increasing your lab’s bandwidth and throughput capacity in the face of staffing shortages while helping to safeguard against future shocks. In this article, we discuss how TubeWriter’s benchtop labeling automation system can assist with improving both the quality and quantity of your analysis, and help your lab get the most out of your staff.
The American Society for Clinical Pathology conducted a wage survey in 2019 and a vacancy survey in 2020 and found that while salaries are increasing for most lab occupations, vacancies are at their highest ever levels when compared to results from previous surveys. The highest recorded vacancy rate was 12.7% in the chemistry and toxicology sector – with 20.4% of employees in this sector planning to retire within the next five years. These statistics illustrate the significant staffing shortages currently being faced within labs, with these challenges being compounded by a declining number of accredited education programs, shortages of qualified personnel, and increasing testing volumes.
With these difficulties in staffing, staff time in the lab has become more valuable than ever. With fewer staff in the lab at any given time in the wake of social distancing measures, the time that researchers spend hands-on with experiments and diagnostics comes with a significant opportunity cost. Having to perform time-consuming menial tasks, such as labeling tubes and labware, has become more costly in this challenged labor market. Freeing up valuable time and effort for your researchers to focus on higher value objectives can provide a significant boost to throughput and staff morale. While labeling and tracking samples is an important part of the analytical process, due to its mundanity, hours of tube labeling is likely to result in low job satisfaction for educated and qualified research staff.
This is where TubeWriter’s labware printing system can represent significant time and cost-savings for your lab. You can free up valuable staff time to design and execute on experiments – leaving the rote labor to TubeWriter. A senior research associate at Vertex Pharmaceuticals notes that “the time value alone is innumerable on hours saved. Before, when we were handwriting or stickering the tubes ourselves, it would take four hours to do 1,000 tubes. Now, it takes three minutes.” Read more on the value of lab automation in BioTech labs here.
Flexible Lab Automation for Better Outcomes and Best Practices
Among the chief concerns for labs and research centers will be maintaining the integrity and reproducibility of data. A significant element of producing reliable results and analysis is efficient sample tracking practices. This means maintaining a detailed audit trail of each sample across its lifecycle. With the possibility of multiple handovers between facilities, moving liquids between containers and different types of storage containers, there are many opportunities for samples to be lost, damaged, and compromised. The costs associated with misplaced or unusable specimens are high. Irretrievably lost specimens can cost labs as much as $548 each, with mislabeling costs averaging out at $713 per specimen. Valuable time and resources will be expended on replacing samples (which may actually have been unique, and completely irreplaceable) and re-running experiments, not to mention the overall frustration your lab feels as they work through this issue
There are a number of stages during the running of an experiment where samples may be compromised. For example, labels applied to test tubes or other labware may cause jams and blockages in lab equipment, meaning that entire racks of samples will need to be removed from machinery to resume operation. The subsequent downtime in these instances due to jammed machinery, or even running out of labels, will be frustrating and costly. This is likely to create delays during experimentation, and in the worst-case scenarios, may result in samples being damaged or destroyed. This risk is compounded when moving samples in and out of cryo storage.
A related issue with tracking samples and maintaining integrity relates to the legibility of data written on test tubes and labware. Labels may be hastily or illegibly transcribed, making it difficult to identify and keep track of specimens – and legibility is likely to deteriorate over time with samples being moved in and out of cold storage and processed during analysis. Misplacing or being unable to identify samples will undoubtedly create headaches for researchers, slowing down experiments and creating remediation costs. Furthermore, writing all the necessary identification, tracking, and status information on the limited space of a test tube can be difficult (and incredibly time-consuming), and differences in labeling or naming conventions between facilities can create bottlenecks. Maintaining sample integrity, audit trails, and being able to identify specimens quickly and easily are all crucial to producing accurate and reliable results. The reality is that some of your lab team will write well on labels, while others have difficult-to-read handwriting which gets worse once they are fed up labeling; this leads to downstream illegibility issues which can result in lost productivity and lab integrity challenges.
The Solution: TubeWriter’s Lab Automation System
This is where TubeWriter’s labeling automation solution can play an important role in establishing and upholding best practices in your lab, helping to yield optimal experimental and business outcomes. TubeWriter is able to negate many of the common tracking and labeling mishaps that commonly occur across the specimen lifecycle. Eliminating physical labels means that jammed up machines can be a thing of the past, and laboratory downtime minimized – running out of labels or stickers need never delay your experiments again. TubeWriter is able to print on any labware that fits under the printhead – on the sides or top of any tube, vial, microscope slide, cryovial, and more still. The ink is waterproof, alcohol-resistant, formalin-resistant, temperature and solvent-resistant, meaning the legibility of labeling information will remain consistent even in harsh conditions as specimens are processed. Furthermore, including all of the necessary labeling data is easily taken care of.
TubeWriter supports printing in a range of formats, including barcode standard, data matrix, 2D and code 128, as well as being able to provide human readable information for quick identification. A senior scientist at GSK comments on the convenience and flexibility of TubeWriter’s printing features: “alternate labeling methods often do not contain as much information as TubeWriter can neatly fit onto the tube.”
TubeWriter: Any Labware, Any Time
Many labs and research centers face difficulties in managing high throughput volumes and maintaining thorough sample tracking processes. Losing track of samples can compromise analysis and experiments, as well as incurring significant remediation costs. Accurate labeling helps to promote the production of accurate data and aids in the maintenance of rigorous audit trails. Beyond helping to align with best practices, TubeWriter’s lab automation system can be instrumental in boosting your lab’s bandwidth, helping to process large volumes of samples in a fraction of the time. This helps to maintain throughput while liberating staff from menial labeling and specimen tracking tasks, allowing them to refocus their time on more rewarding and high-value pursuits. Get in touch today to find out how TubeWriter can unlock the possibilities for your lab.