03 January 2020

Why Connectivity is Crucial to the Future of Labs.

By Lucy Smith

Connectivity is the future. Its technology keeps labs, scientists, technicians and suppliers connected to make sure research is carried out efficiently and effectively.

The demand for connectivity is growing. Many companies like forward-thinking German labtech, Eppendorf, already have a connectivity solution department.

The benefits are plentiful, improving productivity, cutting costs, saving time and, most importantly, saving samples for research.

Loss of samples is a frustrating issue, wasting time and money. This is mainly caused by compressor failures, which corrupt storage temperatures and damage samples. While this is an issue that can be easily rectified by an onsite lab technician, many labs are unable to afford 24/7 staffing.

That’s where connectivity comes in. Its technology keeps technicians connected to their labs for sample management and robotic design protocols. There are multiple digital platforms that do this, with Bio-ITech, OneLab and LabVantage providing leading innovation.

Speaking to Eppendorf’s Head of Corporate Innovation, Sven Buelow, I learned about the VisioNize system. This allows lab technicians to manage their lab from any location using their mobile device, accessing data and conducting sample management. Solutions like this have customisable notifications which help reduce downtime on lab equipment, increasing productivity.

All VisioNize services are hosted in the VisioNize Digital Lab Space, which acts as a personalised smart home.

Achieving consistent, repeatable workflows in drug discovery remains challenging and there is still vast scope for performance and productivity improvements.  Developments in laboratory software, such as Andrew Alliance's OneLab browser-based environment, ensure the easy design, execution and sharing of protocols across multiple instruments in multiple locations around the world.

Connectivity is also providing reproducibility through design protocol for robotics and integrated software. In a conversation with Dr Nigel Skinner, Head of Marketing at Andrew Alliance, I learned that the OneLab cloud-based software allows researchers to not only design, execute and share experiments via their PC or tablet, but also to track and record every step, ensuring full traceability.

This produces more reliable results, thanks to the precise and repetitive pipetting provided by this technology. It also increases productivity in the lab, giving researchers time to focus their manpower on other aspects of their applications. For example, benefitting from greater ease in conducting more complex workflows such as those required for Next Generation Sequencing, CRISPR Gene Editing and Glycomics.

Dr Nigel Skinner believes that the smarter, more connected laboratory is now with us today and will rapidly become the de facto expectation for the modern life science laboratory; serving to both simplify and accelerate the time it takes to bring powerful new drugs to market.

We’re also seeing connectivity with augmented reality (AR). This superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world. It means that people are able to see what you’re seeing.  This image can be produced anywhere around the world, connecting you with just about anyone.

For labs, AR technology is all about service.

US temperature control company, Julabo, have worked with leading software specialists to provide the industry’s first AR solutions. This has helped them offer speedy support to their customers, with location no longer a concern.

This is achieved with smart glasses.

These glasses are used by Julabo's service technicians, service depots and select OEMs for installation support and service repairs, with everything seen through the glasses beamed back to HQ for extra support. This cuts down on travel and makes their service quicker, cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

Dr Dirk Frese, VP Sales, Marketing and Service at Julabo, claimed that this has helped them support customers in R&D, unit installation and training.

It’s really helped them with their recruitment too. Jubalo have a very strong service team, with many of their technicians boasting over 20 years’ experience. While this is great, their trendy tech is now helping them attract a new generation of millennials too, with the company standing out in a competitive talent market for their innovation.

If we say we’ve implemented this technology and you can be part of it, people are often really interested.”

Dr Dirk Frese, VP Sales, Marketing and Service at Julabo.

While the benefits of AR are plentiful, there can be stumbling blocks. Using video in this way can be problematic with more protective customers like biotechs and pharmaceuticals.

Dirk suggested education as a solution, but I think ‘normalising’ could be a better choice of words. Customers need to get used to the new technology, understanding that this is just a virtual realisation of an outside technician working in their lab – which they’ve allowed for years.

Cyber security is an issue that concerns all connectivity platforms, not just AR.

I know people who are biochemists aged around 25 who haven't even touched a test tube glass. All the research for their PhD is on data and simulation. This is where science is heading.”

Dr Dirk Frese, VP Sales, Marketing and Service at Julabo.

But sharing data is everything. It helps the life sciences industry advance and innovate. If labs don’t endorse connectivity, they’ll lose samples and get left behind. We need a community-driven industry. Suppliers must collaborate, rather than compete, to produce products that offer all the advantages of connectivity.

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By Lucy Smith

Lucy Smith has a passion for lab equipment, sharing the latest innovations in the market with her vast network of followers. She particularly enjoys finding, discussing and sharing how the lab is evolving and what the future has in store for lab equipment.

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