Computer scientist Alan Kay is famous for saying “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” To gain a better understanding of what that future might look like, Parker Hannifin recently surveyed more than 300 engineers and business managers who work for life science instrument makers and users on their opinions regarding technologies with the potential to transform their industry. The following highlights of the survey results may offer some insights into what tomorrow’s life sciences instruments may offer:
- Because of its ability to reduce overall product development time and manage total costs, modular automation was the most popular choice. Modular automation can be easily reapplied in future designs, allowing for reduced verification, validation, and qualification cycles. These are innovations that have already been through their own verification and validation processes and can therefore accelerate the process of getting an instrument through qualifications. OEM managers can thus attack lower volume applications, which would not normally be justified, creating additional customer value with their ability to supply more complete laboratory automation solutions.
- The miniaturization of motion control and fluidics is seen as promising because it can help instrument manufacturers meet the demand for small instruments with a small laboratory footprint. In addition, miniaturization can lead to the development of instruments that consume a minimal amount of reagents, as well as instruments that require small test samples. From the end user perspective, these can reduce the overall cost of ownership of an instrument.
- Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technology was viewed as having the largest potential to revolutionize the industry. The goal of scaling a single lab process down to a chip format is to reduce fluidic volumes to less than a picoliter, thus downsizing the reagents and specimen samples and their associated costs. LOC also promises to reduce the time needed to obtain test results and boost throughput, thanks to mass parallel processing.
- “Big data” is seen as enabling quantum leaps forward in DNA and molecular technologies and continues to be a major driver for reducing cycle times and leading to the development of ever-faster sampling technologies.
- Collaborative robotics involves devices that can operate in parallel with humans without the need for safety guards and interlocks because they are inherently safe for human interaction.
- The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of devices embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity, enabling it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator, and/or other connected devices.
- Contract manufacturing is expanding in the production of medical Instruments, boosting production capacity and flexibility while cutting overall manufacturing cost.
- Distributed machine control—a control architecture for reducing cabling and control panel size—and wireless technology have made many of these technologies possible. The mass customization manufacturing approach is allowing for cost-effective low volume production.
The survey also asked respondents to weigh in on critical challenges, including how they are dealing with regulatory and cost pressures. These findings, along with how we are reacting to address these trends and challenges in the future, will be covered in future blogs.
Article contributed by Brian Handerhan, Business Development Manager for Electromechanical Division North America, Automation Group, Parker Hannifin Corporation.