Major lab automation project completed in Auckland

In early 2024, Awanui Labs completed one of the country’s largest laboratory automation projects, preparing the laboratory to meet increasing testing capacity for a growing population across Auckland and the northern region of New Zealand. 

The project was called Roche 3.0 and saw us implement an upgraded Roche core laboratory system at our Auckland Awanui Labs facility.  

“The upgrade has enabled Awanui to add more capacity, efficiency and instrumentation for biochemistry testing and elevated the level of automation in the lab. It is one of the largest laboratory projects of this type in New Zealand,” says Laboratory Operations Manager Viraj Sami.  

“The biggest configuration change has been mixing the lines of analysers for chemistry and immunoassay testing – that change has meant resources are being used more efficiently and tests are processed more quickly.  

“Before this project, the lab had dedicated lines for each specific type of test, which meant some were in use more than others at different times,” says Viraj.  

Scientist Bin Xu has also been closely involved with the project and talks about the new system delivering higher volume of tests and even better turnaround times.  

“We now have 25 analysers in total for chemistry and immunoassay testing and increased the number of lines from three to six, along with a dedicated line for urine testing.”  

On a tour of the lab, Bin points to the new automated track system constantly moving the racks of samples from the pre-analytic instruments.  

“Once the samples are separated, they are sent to the appropriate analysers for processing without further manual handling. With this technology, we are testing more samples, and the work does not have to be done manually reducing the demands on our staff.  

“The Biochemistry department had previously tested between seven and eight thousand samples a day, and this has increased to around 10,000 samples processed within the same timeframe.” 

Awanui Labs Northern Region General Manager Chris Davey says total lab automation is a complete operating system, not just pieces of equipment, and technology is not replacing people.  

“Our staff are now operating the technology to do tasks they previously performed manually. This includes racking bulk loaded samples, centrifuging serum samples and making aliquots into secondary tubes for other testing and referral to other labs. 

Chris says ensuring service delivery means the system has to the be the best. 

“Bringing in the new system has given us the opportunity for building skills and capability of our specimen services and pre-analytical teams while allowing our Biochemistry staff to focus on the technical processing with our expanded configuration of instrumentation. 

“The test volumes from the Auckland community are high, and we need to keep ahead of demand, especially with Auckland’s population increase forecast to increase to two million by early next decade.  

“Our Roche upgrade will help manage the growing volumes of tests coming into the lab, reporting results much faster and efficiently and continuing to support the health system in delivering better outcomes for our patients,” says Chris.  

Viraj says the hard work and commitment of the lab staff has been critical to the project’s success. 

“Our people have been amazing throughout the project. Their flexibility and willingness to change shifts, work in different teams and extra hours has been so important to getting the system running and managing the test volumes.” 

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