Hannover, Germany. How will the smart laboratory of tomorrow work? – This is a question to which the smartLAB display at LABVOLUTION offers a host of answers. Some are visionary, and others can already be put into practice today. One highlight of the three-day exhibition running from 16 to 18 May in Hannover, Germany, are the three live smartLAB use cases in the fields of biotechnology, environmental engineering and food engineering. In its second edition, this special display on the laboratory of the future portrays the benefits achievable by means of flexible digital networking, automation and robotics, integrated functional surfaces, and modular lab design. LABVOLUTION is the European flagship trade fair for innovative laboratory technology and optimizing laboratory workflow. One part of LABVOLUTION is the life sciences event BIOTECHNICA.

Use case 1: Bioreactor inoculation

Modern biopharmaceuticals such as antibodies for cancer treatment are produced using bioprocesses, in which microorganisms or animal cells grow in a bioreactor and produced the desired active agent. Every process begins on a small scale in a flask shaker, and is scaled up via multiple process steps until the organism can be transferred to the bioreactor. During growth in the reactor, samples are taken regularly to document the process. Key parameters include the biomass concentration, as well as nutrient and metabolite concentrations. Along with direct analysis of the samples, it is customary to freeze extra cultures for later examination. This process is demonstrated at smartLAB in the bioreactor inoculation use case. Some of the technologies applied here are 3D printing, mobile communication, data glasses, a robot, and automatic documentation.

Use case 2: Phosphate analysis

Plants require phosphorus. This soil nutrient supports metabolic processes and is required for the formation of DNA. However, because phosphate compounds are not available everywhere in the necessary quantities, fertilization using phosphates is an important aspect of agriculture and gardening. Soil analysis is needed to fertilize appropriately.

In this use case, the phosphate content of a soil sample is determined photometrically. The entire smartLAB process is controlled from the lab technician's tablet. Scanners, data glasses and robots are used, and the advantages of device integration into the honeycomb structure of the lab are clearly illustrated. Data analyses and calibration checks are conducted automatically.

Use case 3: Food analysis

Molecular biology processes at the DNA level are well suited to identify genetic changes or microbial contaminations. In use case 3, food samples (popcorn) are examined for GMO corn using PCR analysis. The smartLAB Thermomix sends a notification to the lab technician's smartphone when the sample is ready for further processing, and instructions for the next steps are displayed on the data glasses. A telepresence robot is also used to contact a colleague in another lab.

The smartLAB 2017 partner companies and institutions are: Eppendorf, Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA), Herr M, iTiZZiMO, Köttermann, labfolder, Lorenscheit, LUPYLED, PreSens, Sartorius, Schmidt + Haensch, Zühlke Engineering and Deutsche Messe, under the direction of the Institute of Technical Chemistry at the Leibniz University of Hannover. smartLAB 2017 is supported by the German state of Lower Saxony’s Ministry of Science and Culture, as well as by the Ministry of Economics, Labor and Transport.