The paperless lab concept is not a particularly new one, and many laboratories currently operate without physically recording research and development. Tablet devices allow laboratory teams to record their findings electronically, reducing physical waste and optimising storage organisation.
Cloud storage tools have made it simpler for laboratory workers to save their findings in a safe and accessible location. This allows laboratories around the world to help and assist each other in real time. The commercial science lab of the future could incorporate Cloud-connected devices to alert the team of relevant updates and developments. Increased connectivity could help ensure less of the budget and less time is wasted, and more is invested in genuine progress. This momentum towards a paperless research laboratory will require labs to obtain access to trusted servers, data centres and secure network connectivity.
The increasing power and availability of 3D printers have made it possible (not to mention affordable) to create pieces of hardware in the laboratory. Specially designed nails, screws and other important components can be created to fit specific requirements. A number of design companies offer open-source hardware printing services, which enable labs with access to 3D printers to immediately develop their own hardware essentials.
This greater freedom could help laboratories become more self-sufficient, and give them greater access to almost infinite resources. A wide range of laboratories across limitless disciplines could soon benefit from 3D printing technology. As 3D printing becomes more prevalent in a wide range of industries and disciplines, the technology’s uses will become more diverse and flexible. With more companies and designers creating software packages for the creation of 3D printed models – it will become quicker and simpler to create an almost endless list of different pieces of hardware.
In a survey conducted by Laboratory Equipment last year, respondents revealed that the change they’d most appreciate in laboratories over the next decade would be improved ease-of-use. More than 58% of respondents revealed they hoped that laboratory practices would be made simpler and more intuitive. The second most popular improvement was enhanced performance – supported by 54% of respondents.
This could significantly impact how new laboratories are designed in the coming years – with designers putting a renewed focus on usability. It is vital that commercial science laboratories offer sufficient support to the team, ensuring that maximum progress can be made within the lab.
By simplifying the processes of conducting research and analysing data, an intelligent laboratory of the future can ensure that researchers’ time is being used in a more cost-effective manner.
In the same report, it was revealed that many lab professionals believe that automation equipment will develop significantly over the next ten years. Almost half of all respondents believe that successful laboratory automation technologies will improve the working laboratory environment.
Many laboratories could receive machinery and equipment to complete testing capacities, workflow and maintenance tasks automatically. An increase in automation technology could help laboratory teams dedicate their time to cutting-edge research, leaving the time-consuming tasks to intelligent technologies. The automation processes could soon demand increased floor space in a wide range of commercial laboratories.
A natural by-product of increased automation in the laboratory is the amount of data which needs to be analysed. In many laboratories, the volume of data is already outstripping the capability of researchers to accurately analyse the results in a controlled manner. This will inevitably lead to the requirement of improved, quicker analytical software which will not compromise the quality or accuracy of the results.
Additionally, with more data than ever to analyse, it is important that the information is quicker and simpler to digest. This could lead to a demand for analytical software which not only scours data more quickly, but presents them in a clearer, more digestible manner. Analytical hardware and software could soon start taking up a larger footprint in the laboratory.
Although it is impossible to accurately anticipate all of the advances in commercial laboratory design, it is important that progression is made to support more efficient and accurate scientific research, rather than just for progression’s sake. Slow and steady implementation of new technologies may render better results than steep, radical advances.