The following narrative introduces "iLAB - Intelligent Lab of the Future." The design concept is rooted in the fundamental principles of LEAN LAB DESIGN. Recent advancements in "FLEX LAB" and "IoT TECHNOLOGY" make iLAB an immediate possibility, and not just a futuristic vision.
Due to advancements in data analytics and ever increasing competitive forces, more laboratories than before are considering lean and data driven operations. Once considered luxury items, lean and automation are quickly becoming a necessity. As recently as a decade ago, most labs were designed as a cluster of sub-units where each lab manager operated in a silo, inside a closed lab room. Most lab clients now advocate the need for open, flexible layout that is designed around on instrumentation vs. lab managers.
Its only a matter of time before those days will be long gone, due to the following evolutionary forces:
- Pharmaceutical industry is constantly undergoing mergers and acquisitions. Quite often, the R&D in the race for drug development involves ideas generated by start-ups. These start ups are then acquired by the big pharma. Instances of companies buying drug lines as a growth or portfolio reduction strategy are fairly common. This dynamic environment necessitates constant changes in the lab layouts.
- Construction and operation of labs is expensive. Any modification to an existing lab to accommodate new instruments is even more expensive and disruptive. As a result the industrywide push for FLEX LAB is gaining momentum.
- Scientific staff and instrumentation are costly. To minimize loss, they both must be utilized well. A digital lab can easily estimate when a researcher or instrument is going to be underutilized. Recent development in the IoT TECHNOLOGY make this possible.
- The global supply chain can not move quickly and can be disrupted easily. The current pandemic only highlights the fundamental weakness of a global marketplace. A digital management platform is needed to manage business in such a complex environment. Advancements in IoT TECHNOLOGY will continue to accelerate, leading to further and better integration of lab automation.
- Resource utilization efficiency is critical to profitability. Process driven LEAN LAB is an answer to inadequately utilized infrastructure and research staff due to poor planning.
iLAB - Intelligent Lab of the Future is a design concept that is lean, flexible, process based and is fully digital. Implementation of iLAB will require a drastic mindset change for many in the scientific community. Change requires sacrificing current beliefs and is difficult. Yet, it is only a matter of time before iLAB is a reality most lab users will need to contend with due to reasons outlined above.
iLAB DESIGN STEPS
The framework for analysis, synthesis and design of the iLAB must be developed using the following principles: (1). Data driven view of the firm’s business; (2). A strategy that is consistent with the operations-related priorities of the firm; and (3). Comprehensive and long-term approach to iLAB implementation. The design process involes the following steps:
- Aggressive business planning, involing identification of labs that are growing or shrinking, while leaving room for the unknown needs of the future.
- Educating the lab staff on the lean principles, lab automation and flex lab to get a buy in.
- Lab programming using flex and lean tools.
- Process mapping at facility and individual lab level.
- Layout of flex lab with minimized enclosed rooms.
- Integration of lab design with automation concept.
- Automation vendor, automation engineer, lab planner and lab manager jointly develop supply chain mapping under a digital umbrella - supply chain includes raw materials, reagents, consumables, equipment, scientists, facility, testing order received and orders fulfilled.
- Integration of change management as an integral part of the design.
- Full understanding and integration of complete lab operation by the automation engineer and automation vendor. Development of a virtual image of the physical lab, not only in the building set-up, but also in the operational details.
The end goal of this process is a dashboard that is a virtual image of the lab infrastructure and operation. The iLAB is an idealized, futuristic vision where a lab manager can, at any given time, tell you where a specific sample is in the process. Where CFO and CEO can look at a dashboard, current conditions in the global supply chain, future demands for a specific type of testing, and make business plans that would maximize the resource utilization in the short and long term.