Although the digitalization wave has already started to hit the laboratory scene, many labs still use traditional production methods and structures rather than networked tools and processes. Based in Stuttgart, the new nICLAS innovation center for laboratory automation is set to change all this with technologies developed specifically for the smart lab of the future in line with all industry requirements. As the Project Manager for nICLAS at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA), Mario Bott is well aware of the challenges his team faces: "The samples and products processed in labs are subject to exceptionally strict quality requirements that can make it particularly expensive and complex for companies to establish new technologies." But it is certainly possible for labs to transform into data factories – visitors to LABVOLUTION 2017 in Hannover can find out how at the IPA stand.
Bott has already observed a gradual change: "More and more laboratories are being developed into networked data factories at central company interfaces – from diagnostics labs and lead discovery in drugs research right through to quality assurance and product release. They generate information that is extremely valuable for business management processes." However, with increased demand for customized products and processes based on individualized diagnostics and treatments, labs are also facing many new challenges. To address the complexity ahead, nICLAS aims to develop sustainable modular solutions for hardware and software systems. Members of the nICLAS project include industry users, developers and partners that want to establish links to research and academic training. "The tasks we have set ourselves cover many fields – we clearly need a multidisciplinary team if we are to succeed in the face of international competition," says Bott. "We are therefore delighted to be working with companies including Precise Automation, TECAN, Liconic, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Promega and Festo. Collaborating with these strong partners gives us access to all the latest equipment and innovative technologies." With the support of cutting-edge equipment and the relevant expertise, Bott is confident that his team can lay the foundations for the laboratories of the future.