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Realizing the Digital Lab Today

To effectively plan and implement digital lab transformation strategies, focus on the end goal

by Agilent Technologies
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The digital lab

Digitalization of labs generates paperless, automated workflows and establishes connectivity across the lab. In connected labs, instrument data can be linked via sensors (IoT and edge devices) to scientific information. This accumulates large volumes of data that can be quickly accessed from anywhere.

Lab digitalization carries multiple benefits that can be leveraged to optimize operational efficiency, lab workflows, data management and instrument utilization. Contemporary digital lab capabilities build the foundation for these multi-faceted improvements, while the rapid rate of technological advancements and growing incorporation of smarter technology lay a clear trajectory. With continued progress, the digital lab will grow to encompass sophisticated end-to-end workflows and automation.

Benefits of lab digitalization

  • Saves time
  • Drives productivity
  • Increases scientific insights
  • Enables greater collaboration
  • Increases transparency
  • Improves compliance
  • Improves scalability
  • Streamlines operations
  • Informs budget optimizations

Forming the vision

The digital lab transformation trend is well underway, accelerated by the pandemic. According to a survey by Accenture1, a majority of labs are planning or implementing digitalization, with 91 percent of respondents reporting that they are currently taking actions to digitalize their labs. Sixty-two percent of quality control (QC) labs report plans to undergo digital transformation within the next two years, and 72 percent of respondents credit the pandemic for the impetus behind their digital strategy.

Adopting digital solutions without a broad perspective and plan spanning the lab and operations, however, is likely to introduce a series of siloed, incompatible solutions. Building a single, fully connected framework requires a holistic approach using hardware and software solutions designed for integration.

In the planning stages, consider overall lab needs, including what level of scalability and flexibility will be required for lab size and workflow and how solutions will meet current and expected data integrity and security requirements. The ideal solutions should automate and connect workflows, systems, and data transfer to minimize manual steps, increase data integrity, and free scientists to focus on problem solving and innovation.

In implementation, starting small is equally important. To make progress quickly and demonstrate return on investment, begin with manageable steps. Establishing a few small successes before extensive investments will help in the long term.

Three key pillars of lab digitalization

Data Optimization

At the core of every lab lies data, centering the ongoing push for optimization. Using informatics and analytics to facilitate timely, informed decisions is a key goal for lab managers. Digital lab environments enhance data access, data management, and scientific insights. Effective solutions promote data aggregation, mining, and analysis, all of which can be further accelerated through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools.

AI and ML are currently used in lab environments for capturing data to model human observation and decision-making processes. As an example, chromatography data analysis can be accelerated with peak detection algorithms, but they still typically rely on human intervention to review and confirm or correct results. By incorporating AI, image recognition can be leveraged to evaluate graphical data for expert-level peak integration results without the human expert.

Enterprise Optimization

Operational efficiency can be markedly improved with enterprise optimization, with a heavy focus on reducing operational costs through improved resource management and streamlined operations. Asset management tools and services monitor instruments and computing resources to improve instrument management and administration. Utilization data help managers optimize the instrument fleets or lab consumables by informing asset management-related business decisions.

Having a unified ecosystem, one that integrates solutions with common architecture and interfaces, is critical to streamlining operations, reducing overall complexity in a multi-vendor environment.  It is also more cost effective: a single user experience across labs lowers training costs and reduced complexity lowers IT costs. Further, a unified ecosystem can simplify adherence to data integrity requirements in GxP environments by integrating systems for automated data transfer.

Lab Optimization

Lab optimization through workflow orchestration and tailored automated workflows, including sample prep, improves quality and minimizes sample turnaround time. Greater levels of automation reduce manual steps and costs related to staff-hours, increasing sample throughput without compromising accuracy and consistency. Dynamic instrument health monitoring increases instrument uptime and helps prevent workflow interruptions.

Applying AI to digital connectivity can provide an all-inclusive view of laboratory operations by facilitating an understanding of interactions between technology and people. This application can assist lab management through monitoring and identifying inefficiencies and making recommendations.

Image showing the importance of data, enterprise, and lab optimization
Credit: Agilent

Agilent’s unified ecosystem for the digital lab

Agilent’s unified ecosystem incorporates a holistic and open approach where each hardware and software component is designed to enable integration and optimization. The unified digital lab ecosystem forms a continuous digital thread through lab processes from sample input through reporting, while facilitating all aspects of data-informed lab management.

The OpenLab Software Suite is an integrated portfolio with tailored applications, automation, and sample tracking. Sample Scheduler for OpenLab, when added to OpenLab CDS leverages multiple capabilities to maximize productivity and quality. It provides closed loop LIMS integration for chromatography labs. Add SLIMS, Agilent’s lab execution system, for a fully digitized solution from sample preparation to analysis in the QC lab. OpenLab ECM XT delivers the added benefit of centralized cloud and on-premises storage of all lab data, allowing labs to scale quickly, save storage cost and space, and consolidate resources.

Cloud-based applications allow users to not just access, but process, store, interpret, and visualize information anywhere. Remote access to scientific data facilitates collaborative secondary data analysis and interpretation. Applications from Agilent like Seahorse Analytics and Alissa Clinical Informatics Platform deliver analytics-powered insights on scientific data, optimizing the quality of future experiments and enhancing the lab turnaround time.

Asset monitoring and alert capabilities such as those found in CrossLab Connect Suite improve lab-wide visibility with sensor-based utilization monitoring and analytics. Dashboard displays of compiled analytics inform capital expenditure, operational expense, and productivity decisions with more sophisticated insight.

Proactive management of lab consumables, supplies, and standards is enabled through integrated inventory systems. Smart alerts for instruments give users advanced notice to replace consumables or perform preventative maintenance and offer remote Agilent instrument monitoring capabilities. In addition, Status Board from OpenLab is a web-based tool that monitors all the lab’s compute resources, alerting the analyst or manager when action is needed. 

Beyond visibility, however, staying on schedule requires quick, easy access to support. The one-click training, services, and support offered by Agilent CrossLab reduces downtime and accelerates the speed of business. Agilent’s technical support offers improved remote assistance with augmented reality (AR) technology. Using enhanced live video with 3D annotation features that adjust with camera movement, this support offering helps users quickly resolve issues with expert guidance without waiting for an on-site technician.

Developing the digital lab

The current landscape of digital offerings and developmental momentum point toward the potential of the digital lab and its continued development.

One key focus is expanding automation to ultimately provide end-to-end workflows and automation. While most current automation is focused on high throughput workflows, such as online monitoring, increased automation will boost reproducibility and quality for any frequency of sampling and analysis.

Automation systems that incorporate AI will increasingly address data analysis and interpretation to eliminate analytical bottlenecks. AI can be used to visualize and analyze large, complex, and heterogeneous datasets, aiding analysts in identification of anomalies, for example, flagging bad results. Further incorporating automation in sophisticated feedback loops could allow for automatic correction of mistakes or poor conditions. Incorporation of AI and cloud computing in software solutions will continue to accelerate collaboration, performance, productivity, result accuracy, and security in lab operations, supported by comprehensive data.

Conclusion

In summary, maximizing the benefits of digitalization requires a unified lab environment that can only be achieved with compatible solutions from experienced, trusted vendors. Regardless of the current scope, starting with a vision of the connected lab environment that you want in the end sets the foundation for meeting tomorrow’s operational and data needs while solving today’s problems.

Agilent’s unified ecosystem delivers trusted and innovative optimization capabilities across data, lab, and operations, enabling remote work and data access from anywhere. Amidst ever-expanding capabilities and rapid progress, the digital lab of the future is within reach. In fact, the digital lab is here, today.  

References

1. Driving Digitalization in the Lab | Accenture. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/life-sciences/digital-labs.

To learn more about Agilent digital lab offerings, visit: www.agilent.com/about/digital-lab/en