In the enzyme laboratory of industrial biotechnology leader Novozymes in Kalundborg, Denmark, the enzyme sampling department is humming with activity. Literally. Because in place of the white-coated individuals one would normally expect, there are six robots doing the work instead, reports professional journal Ingeniøren (The Engineer).
The robots, called Automated SAmple Preparers or ASAP's (which is also the abbreviation for "as soon as possible" - they clearly have a sense of humour at Novozymes), are performing the important task of sample testing the industrial enzyme batches to ensure they have the required level of activity. They are important in another way too - these robots do the work 42% faster than their human equivalents.
Søren Carlsen, head of the enzyme laboratory, explains what this means for Novozymes' business: "While the sample tests are being made in the laboratory, the production process is basically halted until we know the result. With a reduction in sample test turnaround time of 42% ... it obviously boosts the efficiency of the entire production process."
Carlsen goes on to explain that faster production means that less product needs to be stored in the warehouse to meet orders, and so less capital is tied up in stock. That in turn makes the goods cheaper and reduces the economic risk of producing goods in advance of getting orders. It also significantly increases competitiveness, a particular advantage at a time when cheaper products – for instance from China – are beginning to appear on the market.
The speedy ASAP robots are also enabling Novozymes to accelerate product development and cut development costs. Many more sample tests are required during development work, so the faster these are done, the quicker new products can be prepared for market and the less cash is tied up in them.
Novozymes have reportedly invested upwards of DKK 10m (USD 1.7m) in these six ASAPs, but they are clearly showing their worth, as well as their potential to deliver ROI. And Carlsen makes no secret of the fact that there will be more robots beavering away at other tasks in his laboratory before too long.