Optimizing laboratory efficiencies via digitalization is becoming the standard nowadays as new and improved smarter technologies are being adopted by more labs. Manual processes are steadily being replaced by integrated and automated applications in order to eliminate or at least dramatically lessen efficiency and productivity-related challenges. Transforming into a fully digitized lab is now the goal and lab managers are working double time to realize this.
A digitized lab uses digital technologies to improve their operations and quality control, optimize their business model, and create opportunities that will boost the lab’s revenue and value. Lab leaders are urgently working towards improving and updating their laboratory process for several reasons. Aside from wanting quicker results and superior work quality, they also want to improve their data integrity and optimize their current workflow.
Benefits of Digital Transformation and Lab Automation
By integrating lab digitization and automation into laboratory processes, researchers will reap invaluable benefits in terms of innovation, security, and costs. The transformation results in accelerated innovation, which means a boost in productivity and research efficiency. This is possible through collaborative data sharing, effective data management, and data analysis. The technologies involved will give scientists new skills and real-time access to updated and accurate data and information from online resources.
Digitization also means enhanced security since this protects the lab’s data from physical attacks. Cost effectiveness is also a huge benefit because the technology will reduce manual errors and lessen hands-on hours.
Key Challenges in Transforming Into the Lab of the Future
Evolving into a smart lab of the future goes way beyond investing in the latest lab furniture or equipment. It does present formidable challenges, particularly in technology associated with today’s research laboratory. These challenges need to be conquered in order to realize the dream of getting a smart and digitized laboratory.
1. Challenge With Integration
True lab digitization is surprisingly still lacking despite the introduction of newer technologies into some research laboratories mainly because the technology in question has been designed in silo without thinking about the needs of the end user. Researchers only become aware about such new technologies when they are already finalized and set for selling.
This creates a disconnect that gets in the way of efficient integration and implementation. End users become hesitant or less than enthusiastic to adopt the technology, which stalls the transition to digitization. Because of this product-centered design approach, certain needs are not being met in the laboratory.
2. Data Management
In some labs, data is being produced in different formats because researchers have to work using disconnected technologies. They usually end up getting their data from varied sources which need to be put manually into paper lab books or outdated static software. To make things worse, data storage and management is being compounded because of datasets that are isolated and all piled up. This results in data silos and affects collaborative personal data sharing, analysis, and application.
3. New Skill Sets For Lab Automation
Developing the right skills, high associated costs, and learning to navigate new sophisticated software for more information are common challenges in lab automation.
Solutions For Lab Transformation
As challenging as the transformation is, there are ready solutions to overcome the hurdles of becoming a smart and digitized laboratory.
1. Seamless Digital Transformation
It’s crucial to incorporate the needs of the user in the design and development in order for digital transformation to succeed. A user-centered innovation or what they also call emphatic innovation results in better facilitation of technology integration into the lab’s workflow.
Examples of digitization are electronic lab notebooks (ELN) and laboratory information management system (LIMS). These can eliminate or at least lessen the need for manual data transfer and hands-on approaches. Lab managers must recognize that taking on this out-of-the-box approach is necessary to increase efficiency, improve data integrity, and revolutionize the field.
2. Newer Aspects of Lab Digitization
Valuable additions to the automated labs of the future are novel aspects of lab digitization, such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality (AR), quantum computing, and internet of things (IoT). These aspects assisting in a wide range of tasks will definitely have a tremendous effect on digital transformation.
For example, AR technology can develop the following things: overlay information digitally on the physical setup, facilitate the visualization of data, and help in understanding equipment functioning. Combining this with ELN or LIMS will make the transition into a lab of the future more realistic.
3. Data Management
To make the successful transition to digitization, labs must work towards an efficient data management infrastructure. This is becoming easier given the current and emerging digital tools made for digital recording and management of lab data. These tools include ELN, LIMS, document management system (DES), lab execution system (LES), and voice-powered digital lab assistants.
Setting up new systems in this manner will allow researchers to record their data with high fidelity and therefore making it easier to access and share. Preventing data silos is possible with the use of cloud storage, which will also allow researchers to collaborate with each other even in a remote setup.
4. Lab Automation
Gone are the days that lab automation is limited to high-throughput screening robots. Now the research milieu is being modernized thanks to recent automation technology. Smart labs are likely to experience increased application of lab automation. This covers a wide range, from daily research activities to entire experimental workflows, perhaps even subsequent data analysis.
5. Voice-Powered Digital Assistant
Enabling digital assistants to “talk” to lab equipment will immensely improve the communication between researchers and their lab technology. Scientists would be able to control their lab equipment and conduct experiments not just from their usual place in the lab bench but also from remote places via voice command.
Imagine what a digitally enabled assistant can do in recording experimental details with this technology. Facilitating data management via voice-controlled devices will make it easier for researchers to record experimental data, retrieve previously recorded data for analysis, and maybe even present analyzed data.
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