The Jülich Research Center (Forschungszentrum Jülich), the APRONA project team and Interlabor Belp have all cleared the first hurdle. They have been nominated as finalists for the 2019 LABVOLUTION AWARD. The prize sponsored by the leading European trade fair for lab equipment and technology is awarded for outstanding examples of laboratory optimization. The optimization projects submitted by the three finalists are as follows:

Jülich Research Center: At the Jülich Research Center (FZ Jülich), the study group "Bioprocesses and Bioanalytics" has developed new processes for producing metabolites, intermediates and proteins with the aid of microbial systems. R&D projects in industrial biotechnology typically suffer from insufficient capacity in with regard to microbial cultivation. The automated and miniaturized cultivation platform developed by the Jülich team provides an effective remedy. Early development work for this system began as far back as 2008, when a prototype laboratory robotics environment was created. Since then, the third such set-up is now up and running. Thanks to this platform, labs are now able to produce approx. 48 cultures a week, with less effort than before. For comparison only: using a traditional, bench-top parallel bioreactor plant, a technician at the Jülich Research Center can produce two to four cultures.

APRONA: The production of nanoparticles for medical applications has so far involved a whole series of time-consuming manual steps. This was the starting point for the APRONA project aimed at developing a flexible, robot-based system for automated nanoparticle production, hence the acronym "APRONA" (Automated Production of Nanoparticles). The solution: a twin-arm robot system making it possible to produce nanoparticle systems to stringent specifications and within short development cycles, such that they can be immediately processed as customized products for use in personalized diagnostics and therapy. The APRONA project is a cooperative effort on the part of four partners, with Goldfuß engineering GmbH Biametrics GmbH and BioTeSys GmbH providing the necessary automation and life sciences expertise, while the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC based in Würzburg, Germany, serving as the connecting link between the contributing partners. The cooperative project is being coordinated by BioRegion STERN Management GmbH.

Interlabor Belp: Not only are thousands of measurements taken and captured in laboratories every day, but photography is also a standard procedure, with a great many photos being taken of developed PCR plates, sample vessels and much more. As a result, it is not always obvious which image belongs to which experiment. The Swiss contract laboratory Interlabor Belp uses software known as "PicWatch" to overcome this problem. The software is a LIMS add-on, and automatically renames images so that they can be matched to QR codes on sample vessels, for example. In this particular context, there are some 30,000 images to be processed every year. The use of "PicWatch" saves around 10 working days, with an accuracy rate of close to 100 percent.

Which of these three finalists will go home with the LABVOLUTION AWARD will only be revealed on the opening day of the show. The smartLAB reception begins at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 May, at Stand D16. The winner will be announced and honored there by Björn Thümler, Minister for Science and Culture for the German state of Lower Saxony.

The winner of the LABVOLUTION AWARD is chosen by an independent jury. The submissions are assessed on the basis of three criteria: First the solution, itself, in terms of how innovative it is and how much real-world potential for improvement it holds. The next criterion is how effectively the solution was implemented, also with regard to the speed and comprehensive nature of its deployment. The third criterion is added value as a lab solution as gauged in terms of productivity gains or cost savings, speed, reliability, safety, material input or energy efficiency, and even staff motivation or satisfaction.

None of the finalists will go home empty-handed. All three will benefit from training courses and consultancy services specifically aimed at laboratories, which will be provided by Geniu, a company specializing in this area. The value of these consultancy services and courses for labs amounts to €10,000 for the first-place winner, €2,500 for the runner-up, and €1,000 for the third-placed finalist.