Better, Faster, Cheaper – Automation in the Environmental Laboratory

There is a laboratory joke common in our industry that goes something like this:

You can have your results with high quality, done quickly, or at a low cost.

Pick Two.

The basis of the joke relies on the theory that better/faster/cheaper couldn’t all happen at the same time. But what if it could?

BOD Robot 3 (1 of 1)At Suburban Testing Labs, we believe in generating high quality data as quickly as possible at competitive prices, so we are always searching for ways to accomplish all three goals.  As a result of our team’s investments and hard work, in many cases it now can, and it does.

The challenge facing laboratories is to: 1. review a process, 2. continue to deliver high quality data, 3. increase productivity and through-put, and 4. maintain or reduce costs.

An example from our Inorganic Chemistry department helps to explain how we have been able to accomplish that goal: The analysis of BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) and cBOD (Carbonaceous BOD).

What is BOD & cBOD?

  • A test used to measure the potential of wastewater to deplete the oxygen level of receiving waters.
  • Oxygen is depleted by microorganisms as they assimilated/consume various organic/inorganic materials in water, or nitrogenous material, because they are consumed by nitrifying bacteria.
  • If we inhibit the nitrifying bacteria, we are then measuring the cBOD.

CBOD/BOD – Manual Process

HACH LDO Probe Use
HACH LDO Probe Use

The manual process used by most accredited laboratories includes samples being set-up manually using a dissolved oxygen probe.  The manual nature of the operating procedure also increases the probability of human error.

Set-up required:

  • Analyst to add seed to source, adjust sample volume, add dilution water and add nitrification inhibitor to every bottle.
  • Analyst to take initial and final dissolved oxygen reading and record by hand.
  • Time involved = 1 hour of analyst time to setup + 1 hour to finish a single batch (20 samples per batch).
  • Total Time for 1 batch = 2 hours

CBOD/BOD – Automated Process

BOD Robot 1 (1 of 1)
Automated BOD/CBOD Analyzer

This process used by our accredited laboratory is automated and includes samples largely being set-up by robot, using a Skalar SP 1000 with YSI ODO, dual probe, with analyst oversight.

Set-up required:

  • Analyst to add sample volume to each bottle.
  • Automated robot adds seed to source, adds dilution water to bring sample to volume, and adds nitrification inhibitor.
  • Automated robot takes the initial and final Dissolved Oxygen readings and records them with electronic transfer of data.
  • Time involved = 25 minutes of analyst time to setup + 1 hour to finish a single batch (20 samples per batch).
  • Total TIME for 1 batch = 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • Automation also reduced the opportunities for human error in operating procedures.

The real benefit of this automation now available is to see the scale using a real example of volume. See the chart below to see both the cost savings and personnel/time savings:

Our clients continue to require high data quality, on a quick timeline, and at competitive cost, so we continuously evolve to ensure our clients are satisfied — and provide ALL THREE at the same time.

At Suburban Testing Labs, we are proud to support the needs of our clients each and every day.  Contact us for information about how you can begin using our services and experience the difference!


About the Author…Beth is an Environmental Professional, Technical Resource and Customer Service Advocate serving as Business Development Manager for Suburban Testing Labs since 2013.  She has over 25 years of industry experience, and enjoys engaging in technical discussions, presenting topics of relevance, and networking.  Visit her LinkedIn Profile to connect, or email her at [email protected]