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Managing Laboratory Complexity and Data-Driven Operations

Managing Laboratory Complexity and Data-Driven Operations

The ability to adapt quickly is achievable by optimizing lab performance using new digital technologies and expert analysis to enhance the visibility and utilization of assets

Philippe Desjardins

Philippe Desjardins is a lab productivity scientist, Lab Enterprise Division, Agilent Technologies

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Many laboratories are experiencing an exponential increase in complexity coupled with an ever-growing demand for greater efficiency. To address this dilemma, lab managers turn to industry experts and data-driven operations so that scientists can focus on the science. 

The ability of scientific organizations to react swiftly to changing scientific, financial, and business conditions is of paramount importance in today’s rapidly evolving scientific landscape. The global pandemic exemplified how rapidly and explosively conditions can change. The ability to adapt quickly to such monumental shifts is necessary and achievable by optimizing lab performance using new digital technologies and expert analysis to enhance the visibility and utilization of assets.

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Lab Performance and data intelligence

The first step in achieving operational agility is to deploy an asset performance program that maximizes the utilization of instrumentation while simultaneously reducing operating costs. The aim of asset performance management is to optimize lab efficiency and productivity for any given condition by improving the reliability and availability of all assets. The future of lab productivity resides in the real-time collection of instrument data through various internet of things (IoT) sensory information. Subsequent visualization and analysis of the collected data are then used to inform decisions in a data-driven manner. The central premise behind the performance aspect of asset management is to combine the data acquired by these new tools in the digital lab era with a consultative framework to understand and interpret the information to address operational needs. 

This is important as the complexity of many lab operations is increasing exponentially. Traditional home-grown asset management methods oftentimes cannot keep pace, resulting in the consumption of precious lab time and likely interference in the pursuit of science. By alleviating this operational burden through simplification and optimization, scientists can focus on the science and their research, accelerating the pace of discovery and development. Using real-time, digital data regarding instruments health and utilization, combined with expert analysis, provides a performance profile of the critical lab assets, as well as the lab function as a whole. This gives lab managers the information to move beyond reactive, time-consuming reviews of lab operations, to proactively address lab performance and strategically plan more efficient, fit-for-purpose operations. Managing assets through the lens of lab performance affords the ability to quickly respond to changing business conditions and grow lab operations in an organized manner, ensuring optimal performance throughout all stages of development.  

Asset performance management requires a higher level of operational understanding through lab-wide data intelligence to make better informed decisions. Data intelligence helps inform how best to evolve lab facilities most effectively in response to changing conditions. Asset monitoring and expert analysis of real-time instrument activity are essential components to understanding the health and usage of individual instruments and the entirety of lab operations.  

Data visualization images can provide a snapshot of the entire instrument fleet in terms of instrument lifecycle health. Criteria such as end-of-guaranteed support and service history can be displayed, providing a simple way to easily identify problematic instruments. Data visualization is also useful for planning capex spend both in terms of planned instrument retirement and tech refresh. 

Additionally, a heat map of instrument utilization can display the frequency and usage patterns of all instrumentation over a given period of time, providing insight into which assets are being used and when. 

Information displayed with such clarity becomes a valuable resource on how best to reallocate underutilized assets and balance an instrument fleet, enabling laboratories to implement strategic change while continuing to maximize current lab operations. Visualization dashboards are a good example of how new data intelligence technologies can provide the necessary information to make sound data-driven decisions.

Artificial intelligence and expert guidance 

Instrument utilization technologies are leveraging the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to expanding lab-wide visibility and efficiency with unprecedented refinement. To manage the growing complexity of the lab space, AI algorithms that have the ability to learn from a constant stream of sensory data continuously are being deployed to achieve a uniform understanding of operations. Using the electrical power draw of an instrument as a ubiquitous and seemingly mundane source of information, AI can learn to identify and interpret a secret language within the signals to produce a surprisingly detailed understanding of the behavior and health of any instrument. The AI algorithms work by analyzing the power draw of any device, where the current patterns reflect the detailed operation of each component within the instrument and learns to detect and decipher subtle variations from complex signal profiles to provide vital insights into instrument activity and condition. By analyzing all instrument power draw profiles simultaneously, AI can look deeply into the inner workings of any given instrument while conferring the ability to look broadly at all instrumentation collectively. The key takeaway is that almost all instrumentation requires electric power—this universal source of information can be used as the basis for AI-driven visualization and operational decision-making.

While asset monitoring technologies can provide unprecedented insight into the workings and utilization of instrumentation fleet, expert analysis, and consultative change are key elements to success. A knowledgeable industry partner versed in all asset performance aspects of an instrument fleet, can use data intelligence tools to identify opportunities to meet business goals. It is imperative that laboratories can adjust to fast-changing conditions, such as those experienced during the global pandemic. Having a finely tuned operation running at optimal efficiency at all times allows scientists to focus on the science and respond rapidly by adjusting lab footprint and fleet allocation according to changing scientific needs. Furthermore, data-driven consultation provides the foundation for strategic growth by identifying how best to expand, consolidate, or reorganize assets to maximize productivity throughout all stages of lab growth.  

The central premise to note is that the combination of data intelligence and expert analysis are the foundational components of an asset performance program—where the synergistic effect of using several capabilities in concert not only complements one another but amplifies the impact of each accordingly.