A future of interconnected labs powered by digital technologies will turn the tide of innovation.
And yet studies show that almost half of global industry leaders have still not embarked on this journey of transforming labs into digitally enabled powerhouses that spark innovation in life sciences.
Are labs keeping up with the innovation?
Sasa Bungin, Engineering and Delivery Manager at HTEC Group, who has dedicated almost his entire career to building LabTech solutions, knows the answer. Few industry executives understand LabTech domain better than him, who, together with his growing team, has drawn on his experience working on a number of projects, from creating a network of analytical devices to fuelling the interconnectivity between devices with AI. Sasa has seen many older, established life science companies build new scalable business models through digitalization with HTEC helping them shape their journey to success.
We recently talked with Sasa about the biggest pain points analytical companies face, how their leaders can address them for a lasting impact, how lab automation brings us one step closer to Bio Revolution and how AI can foster further innovation.
H: According to the survey on laboratory automation conducted in 2008, 88% of lab workers believed they would rely on lab automation in the future. In 2021, 72% of scientists said their sector was still lagging behind. The lab of the future seems to have been put on hold. Why?
S: “I believe that most of those big companies used to focus on some other areas rather than on software when making their revenue streams. However, to keep up with the global speed of change, they needed to up their game and develop new digital capabilities. On top of this, the paranoia surrounding the data security and customer privacy and the urge to maintain the full control over data made this change even slower. Also, we see a lot of R&D initiatives being conducted in-house. Overall, there was a significant risk aversion to large-scale adoption of digitalization, especially among the largest companies. However, being aware that they need to move into the fast lane to be able to take the lead, companies are slowly starting to accept the change. They are not early adopters in the industry; they are the followers. But the market is still young enough, and a lot of effort is put into digitalisation. We see an increasing commitment for the adoption of digital technologies, especially now when it has become urgent to deliver solutions to customers faster than ever before.”
However, being aware that they need to move into the fast lane to be able to take the lead, companies are slowly starting to accept the change. They are not early adopters in the industry; they are the followers.
H: Meanwhile, highly trained scientists are wasting huge amount of time working on manual tasks like pipetting and cell cultures. Still, digitalization and automation of the lab are once again hotly debated topics. Why should we be excited?
S: “This is where deep engineering meets practical needs. There is a lot of manual work across labs that can be automated using technologies like AI and ML. This significantly reduces menial work and switches lab technicians’ focus to real data analysis and figuring out what is really happening behind the curtain. This adds tremendous value to the process itself and not so much to managing the process. While, only a decade ago, software was mainly used to keep the process running, today, digitalisation brought revolution to how the modern lab is operated. Now lab technicians are not only able to do different calculations and make exact measurements, but also bring important decisions which makes their daily research much faster and more streamlined.”
H: Considering your extensive experience, from your point of view, what seem to be the biggest pain points companies are facing on their digitalisation journey?
S: “I think the root cause of the slow change these companies are experiencing is that the overall process in this kind of environment is slow by nature. To make things more complicated, today, software is fast by nature. From our point of view, five years is a whole lifetime for software. But in a LabTech world, it is a blink of an eye. So, I would say that while these traditional companies might be slow compared to some startups, in their own world, they are approaching the speed of light with this change. The software nowadays is much more complex than it was 20 years ago — it used to be a standalone device measuring only one thing, and today it is interconnected. And this is our domain. These companies approach us to help them overcome the challenge of accepting technological advancement. But the question is, what do they actually need to do to speed up their time to market? Do they need to elevate the product to the new cloud? Maybe. Do they need to go mobile for everything? Of course not. Do they need to digitize everything? Of course not. But there are parts of the process or products we can build and make them more secure, scalable and production-ready for the world scale. We understand their pain points and can help them build their dreams.”
H: The intersection of AI and biology is really fascinating. How are you and your teams applying AI?
S: “There are two examples where AI has found its way into our projects so far. We are leveraging the power of AI to automate manual work of lab workers as well as scheduling of all daily operations from devices to people. While workers used to primarily rely on manual work, now they can have a clear overview of all the timelines for every employee in big systems like R&D labs or QC labs. On top of this, we used AI to create a smart ecosystem that will automate the processes and enable faster, smarter and more precise calibrations for some advanced analytical methods for calculating the composition of products. We moved it from the desktop and tabletop devices in a lab to the cloud where the compute power is much higher, the availability is cheaper, and the reach is much bigger. One solution without having many physical devices distributed all over the world. We created software that augments the capabilities of those devices and provides end consumers with much more value than previous standalone devices did. This will significantly cut costs and improve overall efficiency.”
While, only a decade ago, software was mainly used to keep the process running, today, digitalisation brought revolution to how the modern lab is operated. Now lab technicians are not only able to do different calculations and make exact measurements, but also bring important decisions which makes their daily research much faster and more streamlined.
H: What are you working on right now? What are you most excited about now in your work?
S: “Over the last few years, we have been working not just on digitalisation but also on creating platforms for the existing and any future digital products our clients are creating, as well as the products used by end-customers. This has been one of my main drives and inspirations — It seems to me that my curiosity to explore technologies and ways how to build these platforms has no limits.”
H: What are HTEC’s key areas of focus in capturing the Lab-of-the-Future opportunity?
S: “From building platforms and moving to Cloud to decentralizing the management of devices and building hardware, our team of experts have a domain top-notch expertise in creating analytical devices and products critical for building a lab of the future. We understand our clients’ pains and are there to support them on their digitalisation journey every step of the way — from ideation, doing market research and R&D initiatives to building fast prototypes and building a product on scale. Product on scale is our core expertise. Everything happens under one roof, from idea to final implementation including maintenance. And this is what brings HTEC to the spotlight.
H: What’s the wildest technology you’ve encountered in a science fiction movie? Whatever it is, chances are it’s already in the works to becoming a reality.
S: “I think augmented reality is still not that widely spread but has enormous potential to shake the status quo and introduce ground-breaking changes across industries, specifically in Industrial IoT or laboratory settings. For instance, smart glasses can help lab technicians and factory workers have a clear view of all the parameters and processes in the power plant or a laboratory. I remember seeing it frequently in science movies and now it has come to life. Augmented Reality is finally becoming a reality.”
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