Just like many other industries, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are also confronted with the digital phenomenon and is gradually becoming part of what can be called the 4th industrial revolution. Over the last 30 years, technological innovations have been constantly improving the efficiency and speed of data processing in many fields, such as medicine and industry.
Laboratories, too, have begun this digital transition, which has been democratized by advances in the automation of research processes, innovative and interconnected tools to optimize daily management, an increase in the amount of data generated and a greater sharing of this data.
Automation in the laboratory
The benefits of the digitalization of industry sectors, technology and especially automation, represent a real opportunity for the R&D sector.
Automation relies on the execution of technical actions by machines in complete autonomy. It also allows man to free himself from repetitive tasks requiring great precision and rigor, such as the use of pipetting devices in biology laboratories. These manipulations lead to scientific results obtained more quickly and accurately, thanks to the high correctness of the technology. Thus, automation enhances the quality of research by reducing the drudgery of work and the time spent.
Co-bots, the 4.0 companions of humans, are also starting to develop in laboratories, although this is far from being a generalization. « Cobotics » is the collaboration between human and robot to achieve a common interest. A large part of the equipment is now controlled by a computer and all actions are automated to facilitate and accelerate their analysis. Thus, the results are shared by computer with the research team in a fast and reliable way.
Although the handling of chemicals must be done in compliance with safety standards, it always represents a risk for the manipulator. The chemical industry is classified as a high-risk industry, and minimizing human action is a huge challenge from a risk prevention point of view.
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The digitalization of scientific communication
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even LinkedIn… Social networks are among the most popular communication tools for the new generation. Indeed, they are the stars of marketing strategies for many business sectors, but as far as R&D is concerned, their use has only recently become part of the scope.
Scientific communication is essential for the advancement of research. The majority of scientific publications are now digitized and accessible directly via the Internet. Leading scientific magazines, such as Nature, Science or ACS, have dedicated websites that provide easy access to daily news and comprehensive archives. These articles are constantly reposted on social networks to increase their visibility.
In today’s environment, communication methods have also evolved within laboratories. Conferences and congresses are now held through video conference platforms, forcing the scientific community to adapt to new digital solutions. This digital transition has also taken place within the laboratory itself.
The famous « laboratory notebook » is more and more replaced by its electronic version. The results of experiments are more easily listed and it is even possible to synchronize the analysis devices, in order to obtain the data instantly.
Digitizing laboratories has many advantages, both during experiments and for day-to-day management. For example, large libraries of documents can all be stored on one computer. All analyses, scientific articles or even administrative paperwork can be found in one place and shared, corrected and updated regularly. This allows more efficient management, whether regarding product traceability (location, capacity, order…), compound use, and team safety.
Towards new intelligent capabilities
Most laboratory equipment also has been modernized and digitized, from simple scales to various analysis devices, microscopes and others.
Each of these equipment generates an increasing amount of information and data. One of researchers’ major issues is to be able to easily share and access these information when they are in the workplace.
The use of tablets in the laboratory is often the starting point of its digital transformation. Tablets have both data entry and consultation functions, while ensuring in addition also more mobility.
Just like the « SmartHomes » that allows to manage all electronic equipment via a smartphone thanks to home automation systems, laboratories also have access to new devices with intelligent functions.
For instance, today the temperature of a room can be controlled remotely. Everyone knows how precious temperature conditions are, whether for experiments or for the conservation of chemicals. Any variation can have a big impact. To monitor and have control remotely is a great innovation able to improve daily efficiency. From the centrifuge to the refrigerator, data collection is done without human intervention, reducing the risk of error and increasing the reliability of results.
Other visualization technologies such as connected glasses or 3D scans and other augmented reality tools, which aim to improve the speed of access to information.
For laboratories which aim to become automated in order to improve efficiency and reduce costs, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) together offer interesting development opportunities. Both technologies allow the optimization of massive data storage infrastructure. In particular, AI technologies can extract more knowledge from the data that researchers manage and from the large volume of additional data they can access. Even if the results of course depend on the volume of data available, its adequacy to the given issue and its quality.
Burdens still slow down the dynamic
The number of advantages brought by digitalization is huge. Indeed, whether regarding time saving or efficiency, it has proven its merits. Well aware that in order to improve their performance, laboratories must start their digital transition now. This transition can face different obstacles, such as the material cost of replacing laboratory equipment, technical barriers, for example, if a pre-existing system is in place, or even a possible reluctance of the team not willing to adapt to these changes.
There are many solutions to launch this 4.0 transition, whether they are developed internally or supported by suppliers specialized in digital solutions for laboratories such as Ineon Biotech. Today, many laboratories still operate in a manual or semi-automatic way, a large part of the exchanges or formalities are carried out by paper documents, despite the multitude of digital tools at hand.
The digital transition of laboratories remains essential to ensure a better productivity of the laboratory while being better organized. It’s up to them!
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