Today, the structures of modern laboratories often resemble those of a classical manufactory. Equipment and processes are not interconnected and the precious sample is usually processed manually by the employees. For a long time, this structure was sufficient to exploit the innovative power of the laboratories. Nowadays, however, they often generate large amounts of data, which the traditional model can no longer cope with. At the Innovation Center for Laboratory Automation Stuttgart, or nICLAS for short, the Fraunhofer IPA brings together manufacturers, users, and researchers for interdisciplinary exchange. Together, new technologies for a smart laboratory and the bioproduction of the future are developed.
Automation solutions are only used in a fraction of the laboratories worldwide. One reason for this is the strict regulations as well as multi-variant, non-standardized processes in everyday laboratory work. The samples and products processed in laboratories are subject to the strictest quality requirements. For companies, it is therefore expensive and time-consuming to establish new technologies. Also, the manual working environment of laboratories was considered an advantage for many years, as processes can supposedly be adopted faster and more flexibly with this environment than with automated devices and platforms.
Companies are rethinking their approach: Laboratories are increasingly becoming cross-linked data factories that are located at central interfaces in the company: whether as a diagnostic laboratory, in lead discovery for new drugs, or quality assurance and product release. They generate information that is extremely valuable for corporate management. Besides, the growing personalization of products and processes through personalized diagnostics and therapy poses new challenges for laboratories. To make the emerging complexity manageable, sustainable, modular solutions for hardware and software systems must be developed. These solutions must be based on user-friendly and clear concepts to ensure rapid integration and use and thus an optimal investment with a longterm and sustainable character.
The Innovation Center on the Fraunhofer campus in Stuttgart offers companies and research institutions a platform to network and jointly develop innovative technologies and automation solutions. Among the project members are industrial users and developers as well as partners who build the bridge to research and academic education. The interdisciplinary field of activity requires a multidisciplinary team to successfully compete in the international markets. We are therefore pleased to have found strong partners in the companies Precise Automation, TECAN, Liconic, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Promega, Festo, Analytic Jena as well as SPT Labtech, who, for example, provide us with the latest equipment and innovative technologies for cooperative development. This means that our team always has access to the latest equipment and the necessary expertise to lay the foundations for the laboratory of tomorrow. With nICLAS, we want to show how needs-based and user-friendly solutions should be designed in the laboratory to flexibly meet your requirements tomorrow.
From the idea to the implementation and testing, everything united in one place:
nICLAS - Bringing excellence to your laboratory!
In the laboratory of the future, digitalization and automation are the decisive drivers. However, even the most sophisticated solution will not be successful if it cannot be integrated in a sustainable manner and following the customer's needs. Therefore, connectivity within the laboratory is becoming more and more important. It is the foundation for the creation of a complete digital shadow and thus a milestone on the path towards the "Remote Lab" - which in times of crisis, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic, can continue to maintain the operative business in the laboratory.
"Connectivity in the Lab" is a far-reaching theme, but sometimes connectivity starts with the most innocuous things. The warehouse where consumer goods and chemicals are stored, sometimes unstructured and difficult to trace. Nevertheless, these materials are important and decisive process components. Proper integration and connection to devices and processes can be a tedious and challenging task that is often overseen during digitization and automation projects.
Laboratory processes are often handled by different people and thus lead to fluctuations in results and difficulties in reproducibility.
Providing appropriate process guidance and support for scientists during both complex and routine activities can be of great help. Digital and virtual visualizations of protocols and workflows can be used to standardize processes and thus increase their quality and safety.
The sole introduction of automated solutions or digital assistance systems is no longer sufficient to meet the expectations for the laboratory of the future. It is rather the overall picture and the underlying interaction of all intrinsic factors (infrastructure, processes, equipment fleet, and personnel) and extrinsic factors (physical nature, management initiatives, social components, competition) that describe a complex laboratory ecosystem. It is essential to identify all key players and influences and to address them. A comprehensive and above all individualized assessment helps to uncover unexpected potentials and shortcomings. It enables you to obtain a detailed and comprehensive picture of your laboratory and the running processes and thus to initiate defined optimization measures.