smartLAB must be continued – that much was immediately clear to the business and scientific communities after the success of LABVOLUTION in October 2015. Now the visionary project is on course for the next event in 2017. Two government ministries in Lower Saxony – the Ministry for Science and Education and the Ministry for Economic Affairs, Labor and Transport – have allocated funding for the "future laboratory" that ensures the continuing evolution of smartLAB for the upcoming LABVOLUTION/BIOTECHNICA, which runs from 16 to 18 May 2017. And even when the show is over, the intelligent laboratory of the future will not be going away: as the three-day show comes to an end, smartLAB will be transferring to General Factory 4.0 – likewise on the Hannover Exhibition Grounds – and will then be available all year round in the Robotation Academy for viewing and study purposes. The whole project serves to position Lower Saxony as a leading center of excellence for the laboratory of the future.

The funding made available by the two Lower Saxony government ministries was the deciding factor for the next stage in the development and expansion of smartLAB. The project had been initiated in 2015 by a group of scientists and business enterprises from right across Germany, including two local companies in Lower Saxony: Sartorius in Göttingen and Köttermann in Uetze. Under the direction of the Institute for Industrial Chemistry at Hannover’s Leibniz University, smartLAB proved to be one of the main attractions at LABVOLUTION/BIOTECHNICA, with a format combining visionary elements and live demonstration of actual applications. And even after the show, smartLAB continued to arouse great interest. A nation-wide smartLAB innovations network for the laboratory of the future has since been formed to promote the development and standardization of innovative lab technologies, with funding provided by the Federal Ministry for Science and Technology (BMWi) under the Central Innovations Program for SMEs.

In essence, the smartLAB special presentation is all about identifying visions and solutions that will help laboratories to adapt to changing needs in the age of digitalization and Industry 4.0. The main focus is on four specific areas of interest: the use of automation and robotics; modular design with built-in flexibility; integrated functional interfaces; and digital networking at the horizontal and vertical level. At the next LABVOLUTION/BIOTECHNICA, the laboratory of the future will unveil the next stage in its development. This will involve greater emphasis on aspects such as visualization, interaction and communication.

The reason why Lower Saxony is supporting the smartLAB project is partly due to the fact that it will not end when the show is finished. From the end of May 2017 smartLAB will become an integral part of the General Factory for the Industry 4.0 center of excellence. This is located in the Robotation Academy at the Hannover Exhibition Center, and is available all year round for participating firms to hold presentations and training courses. The General Factory is principally concerned with the digitalization of the work environment and production processes and operations. What smartLAB brings to the mix is the first example of digitalization in the process engineering sector. New possibilities and synergies are generated by innovations and ideas that come from the various different sectors, all of which helps to drive and enrich the whole debate surrounding Industry 4.0.