Digitalization of the Lab: Benefits, Solutions and the Future
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Digitalization of the lab is no longer a distant vision. Advances in lab solutions are enabling the transition to digital to become a reality. With this transformation, labs can expect to experience a host of improvements, including more streamlined processes and an increase in productivity.
To learn more about how digitalization can benefit workflows in the lab and some of the innovative solutions that Eppendorf offers in this area, Technology Networks spoke to Ann-Claire Foetsch, global marketing manager at Eppendorf. In this interview, Ann-Claire also discusses some of the factors that scientists should consider when preparing their laboratories to go digital.
Anna MacDonald (AM): How can digitalization benefit workflows in the lab?
Ann-Claire Foetsch (ACF): Complete traceability of the protocols carried out and seamless documentation of laboratory processes are paramount when it comes to ensuring an efficient and productive laboratory environment.
Today, more scientists are saving their experimental data in an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) or a laboratory information management system (LIMS) instead of using traditional paper lab notebooks. Switching to digital formats has brought many advantages as well as saved time.
In the case of a failed experiment, tracing the experiment and identifying potential sources of error have become much easier. Data from within as well as from outside the laboratory may be used and shared by multiple parties. Digital tools assist you in the tracing of your samples, and an inventory management system will support you in the management of your consumables, chemicals and solvents.
This digital transformation journey will continue…
AM: Are there any downsides associated with digitalization? How can these limitations be addressed to ensure sample security is maintained?
ACF: It is a journey and not a one-stop-shop experience. When going digital, it is helpful to involve the entire lab group and discuss which challenges should be tackled and what is the desired outcome. As new processes must be established, laboratory equipment is going to be connected and new tools will be used, it is helpful to involve all stakeholders as early as possible.
We see a shift in the industry towards open ecosystems, meaning tools and equipment independent from the manufacturer or vendor can be integrated to work together. This development puts the end user in focus and allows the choice of the preferred leading system.
When investing, e.g., in a digital inventory solution for sample management, it is crucial to have the ability to link data sets to specific samples. The ideal platform can easily integrate with an ELN and other systems, so you can keep track of samples and streamline lab workflows. In addition to the inventory and ELN, a system that can link equipment parameters to samples is highly desirable for scientists as it allows them to see the full picture – from beginning to end – for a unified workflow.
AM: Can you tell us about some of the solutions Eppendorf offers in this area?
ACF: As innovative technologies emerge, digitized sample storage and management solutions are becoming more powerful than ever, and there are several innovative ways in which modern technology is being harnessed to aid lab organization.
From sample storage, identification and documentation to advanced security and tracking, digital inventory platforms can help to streamline the entire sample management process. At Eppendorf, we facilitate this via the eLabInventory® sample management software platform and the all-in-one eLabJournal® ELN from eLabNext. While the eLabInventory® sample management software combines inventory, sample management and tracking in a fully integrated, customizable platform, the eLabJournal® efficiently centralizes and documents research projects. Here you can store all your data and files, and it also includes systems for sample tracking and protocol management. You can extend the functionality of eLabJournal® by installing add-on tools and integrations from eLab Marketplace.
The Eppendorf SafeCode™ system, works in concert with eLabInventory® to improve sample labeling by providing prelabeled, barcoded cryo-vessels, with three-level coding in multiple formats to safeguard your samples and improve efficiency.
And while sample management can be improved with a digital inventory platform, the ideal solution would enable users to concurrently monitor storage parameters such as temperature from your freezers. Here the digital platform VisioNize® Lab Suite comes into play giving you the ability to monitor your devices such as your shakers and incubators remotely from anywhere and track parameters such as temperature, O2 and CO2. But not only that. You can plan upcoming device maintenance of your thermocyclers, freezers, incubators and centrifuges in one platform, receive alarm notifications of device temperature fluctuations and power failures and get access to detailed audit logs of all user interventions and other device-related activities.
AM: Do you have any tips to help scientists to prepare their laboratories to go digital?
ACF: When going digital, the first question which pops up is “Where to start?”. By looking at research processes, you will find diverse ways that you gather, compile and store data. To stay organized and keep your lab processes as efficient as possible, it is helpful to do a first screening before implementing a management system for your samples, inventory, experiment and data collection protocols. Further tips for getting started can be seen here.
AM: How do you envisage digitalization will look in the laboratory of the future?
ACF: Streamlined processes and operations are crucial for a successful laboratory. Once considered a vision, digitalization of the lab is becoming reality thanks to the advent of innovative digital lab solutions that aim to optimize workflows and improving the utilization of existing resources through digital applications.
Lab digitalization should enable:
• Streamlined laboratory workflows by introducing intuitive technologies enabling efficient tracking of sample inventories across the lab
• Scale-up with less effort to experiment throughput with ease and with the confidence that everything is stored securely in one place
• Improved data integrity alerting you when there is an error no matter where you are
• Maximized research output and lab efficiency by eliminating common lab issues, such as looking for samples and protocols, that typically cost you time and money
You can learn more about some of the predictions shaping the picture of the future laboratory here.
Ann-Claire was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Science Writer for Technology Networks.