Automated analyzers allow labs to expand their testing capability and improve their overall output
Water, soil, and other environmental samples must go through a routine set of analytical tests to detect and measure contaminants and toxins. These tests are necessary to comply with regulatory standards. Regardless of the final application – safety testing for public health, environmental monitoring, or research – scientists performing these analytical tests often feel concerned about conducting tedious, multi-step procedures within a controlled time frame. If the samples being tested are time-sensitive or turnaround timelines are tight, this can result in unintentional errors or miscalculations, requiring repeat testing, which wastes time and costs.
One way to reduce laborious tasks and accelerate timelines in analytical labs is to incorporate convenient, walkaway automated analyzers. These analyzers are specifically designed to eliminate operator burden in busy analytical testing labs while upholding data quality and meeting regulations.
Streamline Operations to Increase Productivity
There is a growing trend of industrial and research labs becoming more and more like clinical labs. They are getting specialized in key areas rather than being generalists. Therefore, many resources are being diverted to specific, high-end applications, such as sub-parts-per-trillion techniques that require specialized skills and trained personnel. In order to become specialized, research labs are asking an important question: how can we streamline our operations to best use our highly skilled technical staff?
In running a suite of analytical tests on water or soil samples for example, the focus tends to be on improving data accuracy and method reproducibility, with little attention paid to staff productivity (i.e., eliminating time-consuming or repetitive tasks). Most laboratories may not even realize the number of steps it can take to run just one sample from start to finish, and this can add up to a significant amount of time depending on how many samples are being tested. The time and operator burden can add up even with routine tests because each individual is juggling multiple tasks such as preparing calibrators, maintaining experiment logs, performing instrument maintenance, generating reports, and running the analytical tests.
Streamlining the lab’s operations by implementing automated, discrete wet chemistry analyzers into the workflow can significantly improve overall productivity. As an example, imagine if the standard operating procedure for a test requires making five repeats for each calibration point. When done manually, this can take up to four hours before the first sample is even run. With automated analyzers, however, the operator simply sets it up, hits ‘start’ and lets it run all day long.
The SmartChem® analyzers from KPM Analytics use a single platform to run samples and manage calibrations, standards, maintenance, and operator training so scientists can focus on higher-value tasks. These analyzers can also drastically increase the testing capacity of a lab by enabling dozens of tests to progress in parallel. In only one hour, the SmartChem® 210 can run up to 210 tests, the SmartChem®450 can run up to 450 tests, and theSmartChem®600can run up to 600 tests, with 60, 100 and 200 sample positions, respectively. For example, consider a geological expedition – scientists collect ice samples to analyze the water for potential contaminants. They return from the expedition with 1,000–2,000 samples that must be promptly tested without errors. In this instance, the automated analyzer can easily support the volume of tests.
The most important attribute of the automated, discrete wet chemistry analyzer is its walkaway feature, requiring minimal human intervention. The SmartChem® analyzers use reusable cuvettes and are equipped with built-in cuvette washing stations, eliminating the need for scientists to load, wash and reload any consumables during the analysis. Additionally, special wash rules can be programmed for specific methods. Many discrete analyzers use disposable cuvettes resulting in a huge bottleneck for testing because they need to be reloaded intermittently, requiring timely attention. The SmartChem® analyzers, on the other hand, maximize the walkaway experience because users can load as many samples as possible, run multiple methods and step away, all while the cuvettes get washed and reused automatically. Multiple analyses can be performed at once, and labs can include additional tests within a single sample run, further expanding the scope of research or offering value-added services to customers.
Bringing in application-specific add-ons can also increase output with minimal effort and enhance safety. For example, adding a cadmium column module to the analyzer to automate nitrate reduction to nitrite saves time by removing that step from the operator’s hands and minimizes handling hydrazine, a highly carcinogenic agent.
From a lab management perspective, leaders must manage strict budgets and responsibly allocate funds. Therefore, investing in versatile automation solutions that serve diverse applications is a wise choice. The SmartChem® analyzers are an ideal option and can be used in a wide range of end applications, including natural water monitoring, drinking water and wastewater contamination control, seawater testing, nutrient monitoring in agricultural areas, and contamination tests in mining sites, among others. Automation can optimize laboratories by boosting workflow productivity and guaranteeing repeatability, traceability, and regulatory compliance.