Collaborative robots in laboratory automation

Image from Sanofi case study

Pharmaceutical labs rely on precision. The slightest mismeasurement, contamination or inconsistency can cause delays, safety risks and increased costs. In the world of pharma, having high-quality and efficient processes isn’t just a goal. It is a strict regulatory requirement. That is why a growing number of companies are introducing automation into their laboratory settings.

Collaborative robots (cobots) have a big part to play in lab automation. Not only do labs require consistency – many of the tasks involved in their operations are repetitive, tedious and time-consuming. Highly skilled lab technicians often spend a large portion of their days capping, uncapping, preparing samples and labelling. These are all tasks that cobots can perform without interruption for hours on end.

Let’s look at the use cases where cobots can really add value in the lab.

What is lab automation?

Lab automation is the process of using technology like digital record keeping and robotics to enhance efficiency and accuracy in laboratory workflows. In the pharmaceutical industry, the potential benefits of this are shorter cycle times, higher throughput as well as better reproducibility and predictability. It doesn’t just make commercial sense for pharma companies but leads to better outcomes for patients too by speeding up the process of manufacturing high-quality drugs.

Cobots can work alongside human operators (with an appropriate risk assessment) to improve lab productivity and safety. They can perform a wide variety of tasks including sample handling, pipetting, and labelling – reducing the risk of errors and enhancing overall efficiency in personal care and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Their ability to collaborate with humans makes them adaptable and versatile for different lab environments and workflows across the pharma sector.

The issue of safety is another big driver of the move towards lab automation. Again, cobots have a lot to offer in this area too. They can reduce human exposure to potentially dangerous body fluids and chemicals as well as prevent the contamination of surfaces and samples. With lab technicians no longer required to perform repetitive, manual tasks, they are free to spend their time doing more valuable, analytical activities. This helps speed up the timescales from turning results in the lab into viable treatments for patients.

Cobot use cases for lab automation

Lab automation is not some theoretical future-state for the pharmaceutical sector. Today, it is becoming increasingly standard for companies looking to remain competitive, control costs and increase efficiencies in their lab environments. The smaller footprint, programming flexibility and versatility of cobots are making them an increasingly sought after solution across the industry.

Here are two of the most popular applications for cobots:

Drug discovery

Drug discovery is the process of developing, testing and approving new medicines and treatments for diseases and ailments. A very small number of all potential new drugs actually make it through the process to become available on the market – something that can often take over a decade. The use of cobots in drug discovery is transforming a process that typically involves screening thousands or even millions of compounds to identify potential candidates by enabling faster and more precise experimentation.

UK technology company Labman Automation Ltd integrated UR3e cobots into their MultiDose drug discovery system. The company has streamlined various tasks involved in drug discovery, such as sample preparation, compound management and high-throughput screening. As a result, the business has been able to save an average of six hours per lab technician on projects.  See more at

The time savings for lab technicians are enormous – up to six hours on an experiment compared to running with manual processe

Matthew Smith, MultiDose Project Lead, Labman Automation

By automating many of the repetitive tasks that make up the drug discovery workflow, cobots actively reduce the risk of human error. They offer a higher level of accuracy and precision, ensuring consistent results and minimizing variability in experimental outcomes. Their ability to handle large sample volumes and carry out high-throughput screening at a rapid pace translates into significant time and cost savings for pharmaceutical companies.

MultiDose system from Labman Automation
MultiDose system from Labman Automation

Clinical lab automation

Cobots are also streamlining workflows within the clinical lab – particularly when it comes to sample sorting, ensuring proper identification and organization of samples for different tests. Additionally, cobots can perform centrifugation, a critical step in separating components of bodily fluids for further analysis. Their precise movements and advanced gripping capabilities allow them to handle delicate labware with ease.

One example of how to do this successfully is Copenhagen University Hospital in Gentofte, Denmark. This renowned medical facility has successfully incorporated UR5e cobots into their clinical laboratory setting, revolutionizing the way blood samples are handled and processed. The hospital faced a 20% increase in the amount of blood samples needing to be analyzed. Cobots help the lab team ensure that 90% of all these samples are analyzed within an hour. These faster turnaround times for test results enable better patient care and allow healthcare professionals to make timely decisions regarding treatments or interventions.  See more here

Cobots are also contributing to greater accuracy and consistency in clinical lab settings. They eliminate variability caused by human factors, such as fatigue or variations in technique. This leads to more reliable and reproducible test results as well as higher-quality diagnostics. Lab technicians can focus on tasks that require their expertise, while cobots handle repetitive and time-consuming processes.

Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte
Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte

Cobots are a critical tool in efficient, safe labs

Get in touch to find out more about how our cobot solutions could transform your lab operations.  Contact us at and we will review your application, connect you with a qualified UR solution partner, arrange a live demonstration and more.

Joe Campbell

Joe Campbell is a 40+ year veteran of the robotics and automation industry. After executive assignments in sales, marketing, operations and customer service with industry leading robot, system integrator and engineering companies, Joe recently retired as head of strategic marketing for Universal Robots North America. He is a regular speaker, lecturer and author on manufacturing labor issues, and the technology and economic benefits of robots and factory automation.

Local Office
  • Universal Robots USA, Inc
  • 27175 Haggerty Road, Suite 160
  • 48377 Novi, MI
Contact us: +1 844-462-6268
Contact us: + 1-844-GO-COBOT