The power of the automation guy…

The groups and companies that we interact with in our field have 3 main functions:

1.     Innovate

2.     Generate data

3.     Market and sell those date (internally or externally)

As an example, if you are a genome sequencing company: You probably have a unique technology that offers your customers some level of differentiation.  You either have or are working on a way to process samples in large numbers or improve the reproducibility of your data generation.  You have some way of projecting your services or sell your data internally or externally.  All three of these functions are dependent on each other at the same time often being very unique.  Keep in mind that every company is different, CORE Facilities, HTS Groups, Cell Culture Automation and many others often share these three functions.

Innovation and Marketing are important and are both being saved for another blog. 

Why is generating data separate from the 2?  It requires a very unique set of skills.  The individuals that I have met over the years who excel in automation, have a unique blend of life science, computer science and most importantly… a systematic approach to process establishment and optimization.  This blended person is who we refer to as the Automation Guy.  ***I say guy, but in a lot of cases this is a lady!  ‘Guy’ is my gender-neutral term. J***

I was down in San Diego last week and had a chance to meet an automaton guy at a quickly growing company.  He knew the science, the environment he was working in (rapidly growing), the fundamental understanding that breaking complex processes into bite-sized-chunks allows people outside of the lab a chance to better understand what is going on, and most importantly, he knew how critical to his company’s success his role was.  He respected the responsibility. 

We got to talking about risk assessments and what experiences got me to where I am in my life.  One of the bigger risks with companies big or small, is their dependence on this automation guy.  They are the gatekeepers to building complex processes, keeping them generating data and fixing them when they break….. They ALL break at some point.  Most outsiders understand part of the job, but very few understand all that goes into it.  That lack of understanding can lead to a lack of respect for the role.

It became almost comical talking about the importance of projecting your own worth to your coworkers.  It sounds self-promoting for someone to explain how much of the data that is being generated is critically dependent on 1 or 2 people in a company (or department).  This is not to seek promotions or raises, but to properly factor in the risk as attrition is a reality. 

I respect that Innovators and Marketers are important.  Innovation tends to be upfront in the efforts and the marketing tends to follow established sales and marketing practices….  But they are also important…. A blog for another day.

To distill my thought here, think about the leader of automation in your organization or department.  Think about how big of a mess it would be if she or he left or had to quit.  It is a bigger risk than most companies big or small realize.

Great automation guys are few and far between.

Connecting Dots or Making Poor Assumptions?

      My background has been for over a decade in Lab Automation.  I still think of the industry’s future ideas being passed around at the Village Pub6 (insider reference for all the stalwarts).  I have seen a number of innovative companies like V11, Axygen, SPEWare, and 4titude shake things up a bit, have a lot of fun and ultimately join up with a larger entity.  There have been many attempts to break the mold as well as groups who try to rally everyone up with new standards.  Overall it has been an overwhelmingly great space to be able to work in.

            The last decade has taken me from a bench scientist at Invitrogen, to a manager at the robotics innovator Hamilton, the start of Brooks Life Sciences as a team builder and with Douglas Scientific helping them explore new markets for a device that helped change AgBio.  Ultimately, I chose to quit the comforts of employment and roll the dice with a consumable focused startup….  All this to say, I have been lucky to have been able to see a lot…. And from many different sides.

            At our industries, biggest trade show Society for Lab Automation and Screening(SLAS) there was, as always, a lot of catching up with old friends and making new ones.  What I picked up on this year was a focus of the conversation from innovation, to acquisitions. Cycles are natural and we have all seen this in the past, with a couple exactions.  Cutting to the chase for those who do not like to read a lot:

·      Consolidation of device and consumables distribution

·      Behind the scenes focus on bio-storage

·      Much talk of Amazon/Google/Apple making a play in our space

            Concisely, I see the M&A activity taking place with a focus on bio-storage, being used as a set-up, to make entry into our market by a big-data focused player, like Amazon.  (This is a Hassett Summary, being a run-on sentence that cuts to the chase)

What is Going on?

Here is the short version:

            Thomas Scientific(The Carlyle Group) acquired Dennville5 and Phenix4.  I see a couple more regional distributors following those steps shortly.  This is fine…  Not really big news for the market.  What is interesting is the push for bio-storage.  The success of some of these activities is being measured by the growth of sample storage, storage devices, and support equipment.  I might be missing something here but there is a big focus on specimen storage.

            Brooks, as most know, started off as a mix of Nexus, REMP, and RTS3 and have acquired Aurora3, FluidX2, 4titude1 and RURO.  FluidX was and still is a major supplier of 2D barcoded tubes.  For those out of our industry, those are little containers that our blood/tissues/genomic material can be stored for a very long time….. This move by Brooks, and subsequently cutting off the mid-sized distributors has caused a number of smaller distributors to seek alternatives for these tubes.

Hassett Summary – Thomas Scientific is trying to build a serious competitor to Fisher and VWR with a disproportionate bias towards bio-storage while Brooks is continuing to buy up bio-storage focused device/consumable/data companies.

Why is data more valuable than Devices, Plastics or Chemistries?

            My first thought to all of this activity was bolt on revenue. If a company like Brooks or Thomas Scientific wanted to grow, there are a couple ways it can do it.  Organic Sales, Bolt-on Sales of Acquisitions, building something that is worth more than the sum of its parts.  The latter was done with Nexus.  As far as I understood it, the CEO3 was able to pool together 3 companies and place a value on them greater than the sum of their parts.

            But for who?  Why would companies like these want to look attractive to outsiders?  Brooks is publically traded, so maybe shareholders….  But here is the bigger picture that might be going on, or might not be and I could be totally off base here.

            What if the play was to establish a company that controlled the generation of data in order to entice a big-data company like Amazon to scoop them up for a sum greater than their parts?  If Amazon wants to get into the space of healthcare they will need to either grow something or buy something.  I am guessing they will buy something. Thermo is probably too big to buy. VWR is probably out of the question. Who else is there that would move the needle for a company like Amazon or Google? I do not see anyone in that position today. There would have to be further M&A in our industry to get on their radar.

            Hassett Summary – Grow big enough and get in Amazon’s way and they could buy you.

Who could get there and how?

            Brooks could if they were to round out their collection with some solid bio-informatics companies.

            Thomas still has a way to go but could get there in 12 months if they keep up the strategic acquisitions.

How can a company like Amazon utilize data in ways that device companies can not?

            That is a blog for another day.

What is our industry missing?

            We place a value on devices, chemistry and the methods used to generate data. It is what our space has been doing for a generation now.  As I was pointed out over a glass of Japanese Whiskey at SLAS, the true value of what we do is that we are the crafters of how data is being generated. All macro sciences are done with automation, all of them.  High throughput, consistent, market priced devices, and integrations that allow groups to create massive amounts of data.  Most data generation groups are not even close to fully utilizing the full potential of big data.  Personalized Medicine is just a buzz-worded beginning to what is possible.

            Hassett Summary – Those who control the data generation control the data, those who control the data have many options.

What do I see coming?

            I see a handful of companies that would make great acquisition targets for growing players.

            I see a company like Amazon about to pounce on our market and change it from a data generation space to a hybrid that enables us to better use big data.

            I see a lot of my people in our industry sticking their heads in the sand as they fear what they don’t know. 

            Hassett Summary - The only constant is change.


I mostly am trying to connect dots here and may be complty off base.  
My writing skills are not great.

Please let me know what you think.



Where I got my data?









Top 5 things to consider with Custom Labware projects

By Mykle Gaynor, CTO, Clickbio

Labware can be optimized for your application. It is easier than you think. The ability to make something new that meets a need in your lab can improve the quality and quantity of work you can accomplish. Every lab has different drivers:

  • Saving money on unrecoverable reagents. 
  • Decreasing liquid transfer times with optimized plate formats. 
  • Throwing less plastic in the landfill. 

What is your driver?

Here are the top five things I suggest to people looking to deploy a custom piece of labware.

1.       Define your specifications

Everyone has heard this. Everyone has been asked for specs. It is often done at first on a napkin. Specifications are key. Having a starting point for different people to work around is the bedrock of a custom project.  The more upfront thought that goes into the specs, the smoother the entire process often is. 

We have found the best way to activate the ideation has been with a simple questionnaire, which is easy to answer and thought-provoking.  

2.       Look at big picture timelines

The need for custom solutions usually stems from a large, long term need for change. Make sure the timelines for large projects are clearly understood and your deadlines are transparent to everyone involved as soon as possible.

Working back from the required completion date often goes a long way in determining when a given project needs to start.

3.       Have the right people at the table

Often there are not enough people involved as early as they should be.  Labware often requires input from your entire team.

  • How is it ordered? 
  • How is it stored? 
  • How is it packaged? 
  • How is the project paid for? 
  • How is the end product used? 
  • How much documentation/certification/validation is needed? 

All of these are legitimate questions that often need to come from different people. Do not be afraid to invite more people to the table.

4.       Keep the project flexible

 Every project encounters bumps. Try to be ready for them. There is the chance of a specification being overlooked or internal delays that slow the project validation down. The more flexibility you are able to maintain, the smoother the project will turn out.

5.       Think outside the box

 The point of a custom project is to make something new that solves a problem that is not currently being solved. Be creative. Do not limit your ideas to slight variations of products you find in a catalog. Ask the big questions ... and reap the big rewards of a satisfying custom project.

At the end of the day, coming up with new solutions that solve problems can be very rewarding.  

Let me know what you think.

Custom Microplate

Automation or Sneakerware?

While at Gibco our Senior VP introduced an interesting concept of Sneakerware to me. Sneakerware involved avoiding automation to gain a significant benefit in the efficiency of a lab. 

Our dilemma was with bar coding at the time. The thought of the day way to convert all of the 96-well and 6-well plate feeding and passaging in the lab to systems with barcodes. The idea was that the new Hamilton STAR systems we had could be fitted with bar code readers, and by using complex programming, all of the plates could be tracked.  We even went as far as exploring complete LIMS solutions from Elsevier and IDBS.  

Our team gathered data and arguments, assembled a number of PowerPoints and headed into the VP's office.  

He was a good VP. Heard us out. Asked to see a plate with a only bar code on it. Looked at us and asked, "What's in this plate?"

With a long pause we told him we did not know as we could not read the bar code yet.

His point was made with a stack of 10 plates and a sharpie. A brief label on the top plate and a diagonal line down the side of the other 9 was all it took.  

"It's been that way for years and it works." he remarked. Well said.

Instead of large complex methods we chunked up the processes on the liquid handler. Brought a max of 10 plates at a time to passage then returned them by foot to the incubator.

That mix of Automation and Sneakerware did a number of things for the lab, including:

  • Made the Automated Liquid Handler more accessible to more scientists.
  • Reduced the complexity of the code by over half.
  • Allowed for manual manipulation of the plates when the Hamilton was being used by others.

Many things can be done with automation. Simply put, some things should not be done through automation.

What's better, Sneakerware or Automation?  

Hard to say. I do know that in the case of Gibco, the mix of the two worked out great when we used the right labware and technique for the application.


Finding and Putting Together Solutions for Your Lab

I have been in the industry for a while now.  Worked on the bench, oversaw projects, worked for a number of leading device companies and now a number of years in running a consumables company.  Every day I get to learn something new.

There have been a couple common questions I try to ask just about every person I meet, "How do you solve your problems?"  As you could imagine, everyone has different problems and everyone looks for their solutions in different places.  

As a founder of a labware consumables company the conversations have been directed towards where we are growing our company.  What has surprised me is how the answers have been changing over time.

Back when I started working on the bench the go to information place was the seasoned scientist in the lab you worked in.   They more often than not could rattle off a part and part number that allowed me to get done what I needed.  

Later on things changed and grew beyond the traditional capacity of the environment I was in.  Picking up the phone and calling a distributor with a bag of solutions was where I turned.  More often than not I would engage in a thoughtful conversation and be able to apply an existing solution from the distributor to my problem.

Now I am interacting with more and more people needing solutions that can not be provided be either an internal Sr. Scientist type or the product bank from a distributor with a bag of parts.  The web is the most common place I hear people starting their difficult search now.  Tecan as an example offers unique adapters for their automation platforms.  The SLAS page has a network of companies providing unique solutions.  Even searching around the web sites small device companies like INHECO has helped out many people I know find specific nuggets of information they needed.

It sounds obvious, as the wealth of information moves from individuals to the global web their is developing a double edge sword effect of shifting knowledge.  More and more can be sought after online while less is help locally.  

There will always be value in a conversation with a distributor or coworker. I feel the conversation about your problem often helps you revisit your problem.  That act of reflection can be powerful.

I don't see this trend changing anytime soon and plan on making sure the solutions Click Bio offers is found in all the places people look.

What am I missing?  Where will scientists turn to in the future to keep learning something new everyday?


Is Lab Automation becoming less complicated?

Most of us have seen the growth over the past few decades.  Bigger, better and more expensive equipment has become more and more popular.  Large integrations.  Large LIMS systems.  Big data.  Big inner-company automation groups. 

Before founding Click Bio my assumption has been bigger is better for a long time.  Recently while in a lab in San Francisco I kicked up a conversation about a low cost automated platform.  Open Trons came up in conversations.  If I heard correctly, $3,000 for a 1 channel robot, $4,000 for a 2 arm robot with 1 & 8 channels.  Open source software, online configuration, looks to have ~15 deck positions.  I was impressed.

What does that mean?  Swimming in the other direction from the large robot companies can really shake things up.  No integrations, no LIMS, no big data, no automation teams....  every one could in theory have their own little robot.  It is cheap.  It looks easy.  

My coworker and I brought up a major benefit, you now longer need to be running a large application to have tracking and verification for your liquid transfers.  Every plate, tip and liquid can be addressed by your own personal robot.  

Does it work?  Does it work well?  Will it catch on?  What do you think? I am excited to find out.