Blog | What will the labs of the future look like?

Andrey Badalyan July 12th 2021
Labstep Digital Future Digital Solutions

Every scientist or lab manager will have a slightly different view on what the intriguing term ‘lab of the future’ could look like. The perception of this will likely be influenced by the industry you operate in, the current flaws in your home lab and features you think will facilitate your research. Regardless of these factors, the use of new ’smart’ technologies will always be at the core of this concept. And of course when we say ‘smart’ technologies, we hint towards enabling machine learning, automation and easy interaction between humans and machines. These types of technology have already been incorporated into multiple future-facing fields like the automotive industry with development of self-driving cars, smartphones and gadgets with voice-activated functions and various other applications aimed to make your everyday life easier.

So how come smart technologies are not yet widely implemented in research labs yet? As smart tech is a relatively new concept, it makes sense that we first develop devices to help us go about our everyday lives and only then start considering the transition towards improving workspace productivity. This is exactly where the research industry is heading right now - R&D companies are keen to implement smart technologies in their research labs to make our daily tasks more convenient and safer.

Researchers are expected to think creatively, solve complex problems, and unlock the latest breakthroughs, yet are still limited by mostly manual, laborious processes and mountains of routine admin work. Data entry errors and issues with reproducible research, siloed or fragmented information, and interruptions to experiments are amongst the most widespread issues for lab staff. Labstep is at the forefront of leading the digital lab revolution that will address these issues. So how exactly do we envision the labs of the future?

At the bench.

When we think about the lab, we should think about how it works around the scientists executing experiments, capturing, fetching and logging data. One consideration that is essential for the lab of the future is to take the approach of building the lab’s functionality to suit the specific needs of a scientist. Depending on the field of their research, these requirements will vary drastically and it should be the goal of any innovative company aiming to facilitate development of next-gen labs to build an environment that will adapt to these field-specific requirements. This is especially important in the context of enabling lab software interplay and process automation.

Let’s take an example of a classic experiment set up. Normally, scientists would use some sort of a digital solution or a paper-based solution to write up experimental methods. This process is time consuming and especially inefficient when you are carrying out a routine lab procedure, meaning that instead of using a pre-prepared template scientists often write things up anew. Getting rid of this process will without a doubt marginally improve efficiency in the lab. Although providing an easier way to write things up is useful, it doesn’t take away the core of the problem - scientists will still print out their methods and will take them into the lab, making handwritten notes as they execute the experiment. This again is inconvenient and time consuming. Now imagine if you have a system that is built to help you execute the experiments at the bench. What will this system look like?

Firstly, it will have to eliminate the need for inputting data and making notes in the lab whilst the scientist is performing an experiment. For example, you come into the lab with a pre-written digital protocol on your phone or tablet and just press a button to execute it. The protocol runs itself, fetching data from the needed instruments at the write moments and populating the write-up automatically. This leaves the scientist with just the science and nothing. No more need to worry about writing stuff up in a hurry whilst the centrifuge is running. Enabling this connection between devices, software and the scientists creates a connected lab, where customised software works around the researcher, facilitating bench-side execution and automating data collection. This concept will play a core role in building a connected lab of the future for any field of science.

At the desk.

Many labs still run their inventory tracking on paper, or spreadsheets. While manageable for an individual, it is near impossible to properly track the stock levels or material locations when sharing inventory with a team. Often, this results in unpleasant surprises when stock has unknowingly run out, or worse, loss of expensive reagents, antibodies, cell lines etc.

Some direct signs of an R&D businesses struggling to manage their inventory include reoccurring lab overstocking or under-stocking, having inaccurate stock counts and using storage facilities inefficiently. R&D organisations dealing with these problems should consider turning to cloud-based unified inventory management solutions to help automate their labs and reduce inefficiency.

Good lab management practices are essential for keeping on top of the R&D operations. It is also a major point of intervention for process optimisation for companies on a mission to tackle these issues. Optimising inventory management and order placement practices is a good way of reducing repetitive manual tasks which hinder productivity in the lab. There is no doubt that the ideal lab of the future should have in place a next-gen software to optimise inventory management and order placement. Future-facing labs will implement software that will remove the need for intermediary vendors when ordering equipment and consumables and will implement progressive inventory management systems that will prevent backlogs due to under stocking or inventory mismanagement.

Labstep’s contribution.

R&D corporations are well on their way to enabling the human-machine partnership in the lab. The most innovative organisations will pave the way for the rest of the industry. At Labstep we are providing R&D companies with the environment which will allow them to accelerate towards the digital future. We provide labs with the correct tools to fully automate their workflows, build labs of the future and accelerate research.

Labstep is a provider of scientific data management software for R&D organisations across industries (Biotech, Pharma, Biology, Chemicals, Agriculture etc) who need to manage, capture, share and use data effectively. The Labstep platform is an end to end flexible research environment that connects your notebook, inventory, applications and data in one collaborative workspace. To learn more about Labstep’s lab inventory management module, get in touch. Contact us or book a demo today.