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Preparing Laboratories for the Digital Revolution

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Is digitalization the next industrial revolution?
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Digital transformation, often described as the next industrial revolution, has already begun to permanently change almost every aspect of our lives. From the way we shop, travel and bank, to the way we do business and communicate, digitalization is transforming and re-shaping industries worldwide. 

Science, of course, is no exception. Digital transformation is poised to fundamentally change how scientists conduct research and how laboratories operate. It’s set to accelerate innovation, increase research productivity and ensure laboratory equipment doesn’t lose its value. But, what is the current state of digitalization within today’s labs, and how can they ensure they are ready for digital transformation?

The Digital Revolution

Digitalization has been growing apace in recent years across many industries. This digital trend shows no sign of slowing down, with over 30 percent of businesses in 2017 predicting that the impact of future digital disruption will be transformative. The scientific community is not immune to this transformation, and so laboratories and research institutes need to prepare for the digital revolution, or risk being left behind.

Respondents who answered “transformative” to the question: How significant will the impact of digital disruption be on your industry? (Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, 2017)

The impact of being poorly prepared for the digital revolution can have far-reaching consequences – whatever industry you’re in. In fact, future digitalization will be so transformative it’s thought that four of today’s top 10 leading businesses across all industries will be displaced by digital disruption in the next five years. This means that it isn’t just beneficial to prepare for digital transformation within laboratories, it will soon become vital.

Four of today’s top 10 incumbents (in terms of market share) in each industry will be displaced by digital disruption in the next five years (cisco.com/c/dam/en/us/solutions/collateral/industry-solutions/digital-vortex-report.pdf)

Modern Laboratory Challenges

The overarching goal of digital transformation is to minimize inefficiencies within laboratories using intelligent technologies. Yet, many laboratories are currently lacking robust digital infrastructure. The absence of a strong digital framework within scientific facilities puts the scientists who work there at a disadvantage and will ultimately hinder the research that is conducted, and the discoveries that are made.

A lack of digitalization can impact on laboratory efficiency in many ways. From unplanned equipment maintenance due to poor workflow management, to error-prone sample labeling and tracking systems, to manually trawling through vast paper trails, the list of daily frustrations and inefficiencies is long. However, the idea that these inconveniences are an inescapable part of laboratory life is changing. Forward-looking vendors, such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, now offer a varied range of connected technologies to help researchers embrace digital transformation to improve productivity, reduce manual work and spur innovation.

Solutions Through Digital Connectivity 

One of the best ways to accelerate this transformation is to promote digital connectivity within the laboratory. The demand for digital connectivity is growing within the research community as it allows scientists to move away from the mundane and tedious tasks of lab management and frees them to focus on what they do best – scientific discovery.

Specific features of digital connectivity, such as automated data collection and mobile access to equipment, can have an immediate impact on productivity. The ability to check up on the progress of experiments and even control instruments from anywhere in the world, liberates scientists from the confines of the lab, streamlining workflows and boosting efficiency. Moreover, automating the processing, analysis and delivery of results can free-up time and allows researchers to concentrate their efforts on more pressing issues. 

In addition, with a platform of digital connectivity in place, such as the Thermo Fisher Connect, laboratory instruments can be automatically monitored, usage data can be analyzed and alerts can be triggered when equipment needs maintenance. The ability to track and trend even the smallest signs of hardware deterioration can help to keep costly and time-consuming unplanned downtime to a minimum, boosting productivity and ensuring innovation doesn’t come to an unexpected stop. 

Digital connectivity within laboratories can also promote continuous collaboration between departments and eliminate the occurrence of so-called ‘data silos.’ With faster and easier sharing of ideas and data, stronger collaboration could lead to more high-impact research being conducted, and an acceleration of scientific innovations and breakthroughs. 

Turning Equipment Into Appreciating Assets

Another important long-term advantage of digital connectivity is that laboratory equipment that would otherwise depreciate after purchase can maintain its value or even become an increasingly important asset to research.

Through digital connectivity, the Thermo Scientific TSX ULT freezers could perform predictive analysis and self-diagnose a fault, becoming appreciable assets  

Take laboratory refrigerated storage solutions, for example. Modern ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers, such as the Thermo Scientific TSX systems, have been enhanced with digital capabilities and use onboard data from sensors to perform predictive analysis, self-diagnose a fault or prevent lengthy maintenance downtime. By analyzing the data they collect, such smart systems can improve their capabilities with time, creating the ideal storage environment for specialized samples.

Digital connectivity has also already been employed in laboratory equipment as ubiquitous as pipettes. With individual electronic pipettes, programming protocols for these devices can be tedious, inefficient and prone to human error. By using the Thermo Scientific E1-ClipTip Bluetooth-enabled electronic pipettes, that work in conjunction with the Thermo Scientific My Pipette Creator cloud-based application, Thermo Fisher have created the first-ever web-based pipetting system to enable more efficient, centralized programming of connected pipettes. Digitally connected systems, such as these, can save time, improve the consistency of measurements and minimize programming errors to achieve more reproducible, reliable and traceable results.

Digital transformation is set to irreversibly change how laboratories operate with digital connectivity empowering scientists to achieve their full potential. Not only will a strong digital framework help to deliver greater laboratory productivity, but through this increased efficiency, could bring about the acceleration of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries.