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Improving Your Laboratory Workflow with Digitalization

In this blog, we discuss how digital solutions can help streamlining everyday workflows and strengthening your data.

Digital transformation is happening all around us, instigating profound changes to so many aspects of our daily lives. The laboratory is no different: from artificial intelligence (AI) to automation and advanced interconnectivity, there now exists a wealth of commercially available systems and technologies that stand to streamline day-to-day processes and workflows across the lab, while enabling more insightful data analysis.
Although most life science organizations have made an effort to integrate aspects of digitalization into their lab setup, the industry remains in the early stages of its digital transformation journey. This is partially due to wide reliance upon legacy instruments and systems acquired from different vendors. As such, it is not uncommon for core apparatus to be reliant upon proprietary software, meaning that study data is regularly stored in disparate data siloes.

For many labs, integrating these systems and improving connectivity and automation presents a significant challenge, with many organizations unaware of the real value that integrating smart digital solutions can bring.

In this blog, we will take a look at some of the digital scientific innovations available commercially, and how these can bring value to your laboratory setup. By adopting digitalization, it can be easy to streamline everyday workflows and strengthen your data.

Goodbye labor-intensive workflows, hello smart innovations

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Set out in Figure 1 is a typical 4-step lab workflow, each presenting with unique needs. The experimental design phase comes first and is reliant upon knowledge of inventory, personnel allocation, as well as access to all necessary supporting documentation. Phase 2 in the typical workflow, is the main body of lab work. Efficiency here can be maximized with sound sample management and data logging systems. Data analysis comes next, with data processing central to success. Finally, all of the study data needs to be documented and stored in a centralized bank, ready for any future audits.
Each lab workflow stage comes with its unique requirements, but all too often, labs rely upon legacy, non-digital lab management systems, which can create inefficiencies in almost every aspect of a working lab. Take sample management, for example, traditionally, samples may be labeled with vulnerable handwritten labels and stored in disorganized freezers, where valuable time could be wasted trying to relocate samples for analysis. Such systemic issues can take up a significant amount of hands-on time for lab staff, and take them away from valuable research.

For many labs, another major inefficiency is borne from taking a hybrid approach to data management, combining digital data and paper lab notes. Manual data inputting and similar data processing tasks are commonplace, but no longer necessary with the availability of digital automated solutions. By implementing a smart data management system, much of this manual documentation work can be eliminated, while the automation and optimization of planning and scheduling can improve the utilization of personnel, equipment, and materials.

Digitalized labs are characterized by automated data transcription and increased interconnectivity between systems via direct interfaces. This opens the possibility to identify new insights by applying advanced data analytics to optimize your workflows. More and more, features from separate instrumentation can be harnessed and centralized via the use of add-ons, making it possible to benefit from the best features of each device in your lab.

So, to combat the key challenges regularly encountered with traditional lab workflows, smart technology is becoming increasingly important. Let’s take a closer look at some of the digital innovations available, and how these can streamline lab efficiency.

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Lab management systems – enhancing your workflow

There are a wealth of products and services that serve to manage samples, data and processes. Usually, this is achieved by adopting a centralized smart software package to enable a secure and automated system for sample tracking and inventory management. One such solution is the powerful eLabNext® , part of the Eppendorf group.

Stay on track during data acquisition

The eLabInventory® smart software for sample management is a centralized platform that encompasses inventory, and sample management/tracking in a bespoke customizable platform. This innovation can help to streamline both experimental design and data acquisition elements of your lab’s workflow. By enabling you to visualize your entire inventory at your fingertips, you can easily browse through, and quickly locate samples from your lab and storage systems. Not only can this platform identify the correct fridge/freezer/cupboard in which a sample is located, but also the precise location within the storage unit (e.g. Shelf B, Box 2). Just imagine the time that this could save!

With eLabInventory® , all of your sample management workflow is automated with an innovative barcode system. The SafeCode smart consumables work in tandem with eLabInventory® , whereby sample tubes come pre-labeled with barcodes. Simply scan the barcode once the sample has been collected, and all tracking data is sent to the centralized system, enabling a full visualization of sample storage, distribution and testing. Platforms such as this ensure that samples never get lost in storage or transit.

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Thanks to smart sample and reagent management software, you can make spoilage a thing of the past too – with automatic alerts for when chemicals, consumables and reagents run low in stock or nearing the expiry date. Additionally, you can remotely monitor storage parameters such as fridge/freezer temperatures – in cases such as this, add-on features can be a useful tool. In the remote management of fridge temperatures, eLabNext® is compatible with devices and software from different partners, including VizioNize® Lab Suite.

Monitor the situation

Anyone who has worked in a lab knows that regular maintenance of lab instrumentation is a common overarching requirement, and sometimes equipment downtime can hinder research workflows. There’s a digital solution to help with this too! With our VizioNize®Lab Suite , you can keep track of all of your lab instrumentation with our smart platform for maintenance management. This stands to limit the downtime of your lab equipment, by real-time monitoring of connected lab devices. This gives you the ability to track the status, parameters and performance history of your apparatus. Another feature of VizioNize® Lab Suite is the lab equipment booking feature. This can help to boost efficiency in the lab and ensure that key apparatus can be reserved for when it’s needed.

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Increase throughput and accuracy

A key feature of the digitalized lab is increased accuracy and throughput thanks to digital innovation, and this doesn’t just apply to large apparatus. One of the staple devices used daily in life sciences – the pipette, can also become a part of your digital ecosystem. The new generation Eppendorf Xplorer ® electronic pipettes can become connected via the Pipette Manager , providing guidance and control when working with liquids of varying viscosity, volatility and surface tension. Transforming your pipette setup into a smart digital system will help with data acquisition by increasing pipetting accuracy while also boosting speed.

Interested in learning more about digitalization in the lab? Check out our series of whitepapers about transitioning towards lab digitalization.

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Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs)

Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) are one of the most popular digital lab solutions and can markedly streamline your lab workflow. ELNs work by moving all paper documentation onto a smart digital platform, helping to centralize and transcribe research projects from conceptualization to completion: ELNs can have a big impact on the design/planning phase of a research project, and also the analysis and documentation phase.

Bringing value to both the user and their organization, ELNs make light work of searching for files and data, simplifying data copying and backups, and increasing connectivity of devices and people. ELNs have increased user access controls too, a far more secure solution than paper records. Not only do ELMs store and record all data and files onto a centralized platform, but also include smart systems for sample tracking and protocol management. One such solution from eLabNext ® , part of the Eppendorf group, is the eLabJournal ® , a high-performance ELN designed to help labs transition into a paper-free setup.

With eLabJournal® data readouts from lab instruments can be recorded directly into the centralized platform, improving the quality and reproducibility of experiments by minimizing human error and variability. Since all staff members involved can now have access to key files, data and sample information at their fingertips, the significant time that can be wasted by staff searching for paper records is eliminated. The main benefit of ELNs like eLabJournal® is that a study can be planned and transcribed in greater detail, in a fraction of the time.

It's easy to extend the functionality of eLabJournal® further, by installing add-on tools and software from eLab Marketplace. Here, you can use programs like the SDK (Software Development Kit) and API (Application Programming Interface), where you can access tools and information to help you develop your own add-ons.

Interested in making your lab paperless? Check out our recent blog post for more information!

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Why not go digital today?

By empowering people to transform their conventional labs into smart digitalized labs, experts in lab digitalization such as the team from Eppendorf and eLabNext® can provide bespoke software, instrumentation and support to their customers while never compromising on the quality of results, cost-effectiveness, or laboratory space.

The value that digital solutions can bring to the lab is clear – by saving time and automating many of the day-to-day practices, lab staff can spend their hands-on time performing high-value tasks, rather than getting bogged down in administrative tasks like manual data logging or searching for samples in disorganized storage.

Furthermore, the increased safety and security provided by digital lab management platforms can protect study data, which can be automatically recorded, to support GLP/GMP compliance.

So why not contact us today for a personal consultation, and learn more about the value that digitalization could bring to your laboratory?

For a thorough overview of digital lab solutions, including webinars and live demonstrations, explore our Eppendorf Lab Channel where you can expand your knowledge and get advice from our expert team.

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