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J.T. Kaminski, Director of Technology Services EMEA,

at advance software provider for R&D organisations IDBS, explains how technology is shaping the way for the design of the ‘Lab of the Future’.

Science thrives on innovation and progression. This progression isn’t limited to abstract concepts and theories, but also

the tangible laboratories scientists operate in. Throughout my career, I’ve heard how important infrastructure advances are in modernising the lab, e.g. newest high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) systems, latest advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) or automated laboratory instrumentation. This was made even more apparent when I recently attended the annual Basel Life Science Week (BLSW) in Switzerland.

The event was host to many organisations and individuals all interested in the innovation of science and developments for the ‘Lab of the Future’ (LotF). From my own 15 years’ experience working in the sector, in labs, and also from the challenges highlighted by other scientists at BLSW, it’s evident that three factors need to be considered in order to transform today’s laboratories into ‘Labs of the Future’. To keep up with the industry’s appetite for innovation, laboratories need to be designed with automation and process, collaboration and outsourcing, and ergonomics and mobility in mind.

The consumer market, the ‘Internet of Things‘ and advances in smart technology are shaping scientists’ expectations around what it takes to improve laboratory design and operations – which, in turn, is influencing how the industry and

34 | Tomorrow’s Laboratories

key vendors like IDBS facilitate this innovation. These advances in technology are helping push the LotF, but technology is not a ‘one-size-fits- all’ model. There is a great desire to employ the latest technologies to usher today’s laboratories into the future but, for technology to act as the ‘silver bullet’, scientists first have to define what it is they are trying to achieve so they can identify and implement the most beneficial technology.

Automation plays a crucial role in the LotF as it enables scientists to focus on the research at hand, rather than continuously updating processes. For labs to enable automation, however, they first need to identify which processes can be improved with new technology. One thing that surprises me is how often people focus on automating existing practises – what I call ‘automating the past’ – rather than starting with a bottom-up review of current processes.

Scientists need to ask themselves what current processes are slowing them down (where are the bottlenecks?) and what informatics platforms they can use to streamline these processes. In order to properly apply the benefits of automation, firms have to gain a deeper understanding of their organisation’s processes from the end user’s perspective, review the interactions between groups, and get a better picture of how data flows and is reported – only then can they begin to eliminate manual steps. This practice of determining the ‘As-is’ and ‘To-be’ processes helps identify and rank opportunities for improvement,

as well as quantifying a project’s return on investment (ROI).

Collaboration and outsourcing is nothing new in the science industry, as they can reduce operational and infrastructure costs. However, for many laboratories, the use of third parties is about efficiency and increasing the speed at which new developments can be brought to market.

Collaboration can be a catalyst for innovation but it can also present challenges. One of the challenges collaborating laboratories encounter is working outside company firewalls, which means extra logistics and integration concerns – particularly the protection of IP, sharing data securely in a timely manner and ensuring quality of data. Many collaborating laboratories have moved from paper laboratory notebooks to electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) to neutralise these obstacles. ELNs have grown in popularity, so selecting a provider that can seamlessly integrate with all laboratory operations and

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