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Job Title: Senior Researcher for the High Throughput Antibody Discovery team
I have encountered situations just like this quite a few times over the years. It can be intimidating, but it is very much an achievable goal. The first thing you need to consider is the scale and scope of what you want to automate. How many plates? How often? What format of ELISA? How many different formats? Are you working in 96-well or 384-well, or both? Do you have a preference for any of the other components you may need? A specific plate reader, plate washer or dispenser? Define as many of the parameters as you can and then you can reach out to vendors. If you decide that all you need is a couple of plate stackers to attach to a plate washer and plate reader, that is easily accomplished. If you decide that you need a higher degree of automation then there are several vendors that you should consider contacting. The five most well known vendors for integrated systems are Thermo, Beckman Coulter, High Res, Hamilton and Tecan. They all provide liquid handlers and/or integration controller software, referred to as “scheduling software”. Contact several vendors to get quotes and designs and then you can decide which fits your lab’s needs and budget. Do not commit to anything unless you are sure it will meet your needs and budget.
Almost every instrument vendor includes training with purchase. This is also true for integrators. Take advantage of all of the training offered. Be up-front with your Sales Rep about the lack of automation experience within your lab. Most companies can also offer more extensive training for an additonal fee. Bring the vendor’s software specialist into your lab and learn as much as you can from them. Get as much time in front of the system as you can while the vendor specialists are available to answer any questions. If there are other individuals at your site, perhaps in another lab or department that have automation experience, seek them out. I am approached quite often by scientists from different labs and departments to help with automation issues and I am always more than happy to share what I have learned over the years.