Benchtop Automation Trends 2015
This market report summarizes the results of HTStec's industry-wide global web-based benchmarking survey on small-scale or benchtop automation carried out in November 2015.
The survey was initiated as part of HTStec's tracking of emerging life science marketplaces. The questionnaire was compiled by HTStec to meet the needs, specific requirements and interests of the benchtop automation and lab instruments vendor community. The survey also updates and extends HTStec's previous report on the topic published in January 2013.
The main objectives of this global benchmarking study were to gain a better understanding of current interest in and future deployment of benchtop automated systems. This included requirements for automated pipettors/dispensers, grippers/movers, and scheduling software. Equal emphasis was given to soliciting opinion from all organisations types, with no geographic bias in the distribution of persons contacted.
The survey looked at the following aspects of benchtop automation as practiced today (2015) and in a few cases as predicted for the future (2017): familiarity and current use of automation; main end-users of benchtop automation; types of benchtop automation already deployed; what is driving consideration of benchtop automation; interest in accessing different types of automated liquid handing platforms; main purpose of acquiring benchtop automation system; level of workload expected of benchtop automation; key to making benchtop automation fully accessible and useful to the majority of potential end-users; interest in potential applications of a benchtop automation system (i.e. sample prep; PCR/qPCR & next-gen sequencing (NGS); liquid dispensing; dilution operations; ELISA; aspects of cell maintenance/culture; cell-based assays); level of operational capacity needed from benchtop automation; batches sizes for tubes and microplates used for different applications with benchtop automation; main requirements for automated benchtop pipettors/dispensers; type of vessels used on a benchtop automated pipettor/dispenser; accessories that must be available as options on a generic benchtop automated pipettor/dispenser; requirements for a gripper/plate mover on an automated benchtop pipettor/dispenser; what respondents want to automate with the stacker/mover; dimensional restrictions for benchtop automation systems; how respondents prefer to control an automated benchtop device; preferred method of deployment for a benchtop automation solution; training expectations for benchtop automation; how respondents plan to modify vendor-recommended software protocols; preferred software functionality and learning curve; if workflow scheduling software is considered during the purchasing process for benchtop automation; important aspects of instrument control and scheduling software; most important factors that impact a purchasing decision; level of awareness of some examples of benchtop automated systems; annual CAPEX budget for benchtop automation and breakdown amongst different automation categories; most appealing vendors for future benchtop automation purchases; time frame to purchase a benchtop automation system and the reason for purchase; necessity for a demo of a benchtop automation system and at what stage in the purchase process is a demo most needed; and any unmet needs in benchtop automation today.
The main questionnaire consisted of 45 multi-choice questions and 1 open-ended question. The exact number presented to respondents depended on their interest in the specific applications areas surveyed. In addition, there were 4 questions related solely to the administration of survey.
The survey collected 135 validated responses, of these 67% (90 out of 135) completed the survey.
Survey responses were geographically split: 44% Europe, 39% North America, 10% Asia (excluding Japan & China), 4% Japan, 3% other geographic regions and 1% China.
Survey respondents were drawn from persons or groups interested in applying benchtop automation to various tasks which they mainly process manually or with limited automation today.
Respondents represented 56 University, Research Institute, Not-for-Profit; 27 Pharmaceutical; 17 Medical School/Hospital/Clinic; 9 Biotech; 8 Diagnostics; 6 Contract Research Organisation; 5 Other; 4 Government /Military/Defense; 2 Academic Screening Center; and 1 Animal Health Testing.
Most survey respondents had a senior job role or position which was in descending order: 27 research scientists; 20 lab managers; 15 professors/assistant professors; 15 senior scientists/researchers; 9 principal investigators; 8 others; 8 department heads; 8 post-docs; 7 directors; 7 section/group leaders; 5 lab technicians; 3 automation engineers; and 3 graduates/PhD students.
All data has been presented and analyzed as the average response of all survey respondents. In addition, where appropriate the results have been fully reanalyzed after segmentation into a further 5 survey groups based on the following criteria. Familiarity and current use of automation: 1) Expert User; 2) Moderately Aware; or 3) Non-Expert User; Organisational Origin: 4) Pharma & Biotech; or 5) Academic Research.
The majority of survey respondents were moderately aware of automation i.e. had some familiarity, occasionally utilize automated tools where advantageous.
Middle-level lab personnel were ranked as the greatest users of benchtop automation in respondent's lab.
The type of benchtop automation most deployed to date was stand-alone automated pipettor/dispenser feed manually.
The type of benchtop automation respondents were most interested in deploying in the future was automated workstations made up of multiple processing instruments linked together by a plate mover/ gripper and controlled with scheduling software.
To get more reliable/reproducible data, better quality of assay results was ranked the most important driver for implementing benchtop automation.
The main purpose of acquiring benchtop automation was to run a well-defined set of routine, standard applications on a devoted instrument.
The level of workload wanted from a benchtop automation system was regular use (system is used at least once per day).
Immediately obvious benefits (i.e. cost, labour savings, better quality data etc.) were ranked as the greatest influence on making benchtop automation fully accessible and useful to the majority of potential end-users.
Of a list of potential application areas for benchtop system respondents showed greatest interest in sample prep, liquid dispensing, and PCR/qPCR & NGS.
Of the sample prep applications greatest interest was for DNA extraction/purification.
Of some sample prep tasks to be automated greatest interest was in extraction, isolation using magnetic beads.
Of the PCR/qPCR & NGS applications greatest interest was for automating PCR/qPCR assay setup.
Of the different types of automated liquid handling platforms greatest interest was for stand-alone pipettors with multi-channel 96, 384 or 1536 dispense heads.
Of the liquid dispensing applications greatest interest was for tube to plate transfers.
Of dilution operations enabled greatest interest was for dilutions with aqueous solutions.
With respect to ELISA assays greatest interest was for full workflow automation i.e. sample addition, plate washing (if applicable), incubation and detection.
Of the cell maintenance/culture applications equal greatest interest was for cell growth and incubation.
Of the cell-based assay applications greatest interest was for cell viability assays.
The level of operational capacity most needed from benchtop automation was occasional use, walk up anytime.
The median batch size (number of unattended tubes processed at any one time) on a benchtop automated system was: for sample prep, aspects of cell maintenance/culture, and cell-based assays 1-24 tubes/batch; for PCR/qPCR & NGS, dilution operations, and ELISA 25-48 tubes/batch; and for liquid dispensing 49-96 tubes/batch.
The median batch size (number of unattended microplates processed at any one time) on a benchtop automated system was: for sample prep, PCR/qPCR & NGS, liquid dispensing, dilution operations, ELISA and cell-based assays 6-10 microplates/batch; and for aspects of cell maintenance/culture 11-50 microplates/batch.
The most wanted liquid handling requirements for a benchtop automated system were: a) 1-, 8- or 12-channels + single channel pipetting; b) with independent movement of up to 8 dispensing channels; c) 0.5μL-5μL minimum dispense volume range; and d) 250μL-1mL maximum dispense volume range.
The vessel respondents most want to use on a benchtop automated system was the 96-well plate.
The accessory respondents most want to see available on a generic benchtop pipettor/dispenser were disposable reagent reservoirs.
The type of gripper/plate mover most required on a benchtop pipettor was one that enables on-deck access.
Respondents most want to automate movement of PCR plates using a gripper/stacker/plate mover.
The median maximum dimensional restrictions required for benchtop automated systems were width - 125cm, depth - 75cm, and height - 100cm.
The preferred way to control an automated benchtop device was using a combination of PC for method set-up and a touchscreen/mobile device for routine control.
The preferred method of deployment of a benchtop automation solution was relatively evenly split between vendor sets up solution onsite versus an out of box solution that is setup by yourself following a set-up wizard/simplified instruction manual.
The expected training requirements for new benchtop automation were minimal training (1-4 hours in duration).
Most respondents plan to use vendor-recommended protocols as a reference only and require custom protocols to be developed for their lab.
The preferred software functionality was a moderate learning curve - open software supplied with example methods, needs moderately trained personnel for creating new methods.
Most respondents think workflow scheduling software will be an integral part of their intended operation.
Of several important aspects of instrument control and scheduling software for benchtop automation the ability of software to read in worklists (i.e. worklist management) was rated most needed.
Investment price was rated the factor which most influenced purchasing of a benchtop automated system.
Respondents level of awareness of some selected benchtop automation systems as highest for Tecan Freedom Evo 75, Eppendorf epMotion 5070, Qiagen QIAcube and Beckman Biomek 4000.
The median annual CAPEX budget for benchtop automation today (2015) was $25K-$50K.
Based on the mean CAPEX budgets for benchtop automation the global market for such instruments was estimated to be around $500M in 2015. The market was segmented and CAGR estimates for 2015 made. The breakdown of the market into component systems was examined with the biggest proportion allocated to stand-alone automated pipettors/dispensers feed manually.
The most appealing vendors of small-scale benchtop automation were Hamilton, Tecan, Agilent and Beckman Coulter. It was estimated that these 4 vendors combined had at least 40% market share.
Most respondents expect to acquire a benchtop automation system over the next 3 years. System purchases were equally split between first time and experienced users.
The majority need a demo of a benchtop automation system at time of purchase to see how it performs a specific method in order to make a decision. A demo was most needed in the middle of the purchasing process i.e. when comparing a selection of vendors (some months before the purchase).
Some unmet needs in benchtop automation were documented.
The full report provides the data, details of the breakdown of the responses for each question, its segmentation and the estimates for the future (2017). It also highlights a few differences between the survey groups, particularly with respect to Pharma & Biotech and Expert Users versus other groupings.