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Achema Pulse 2021 The workplace in the lab 4.0: flexible because modular

Editor: Dr. Ilka Ottleben

Digitalisation is on the rise — in the laboratory as well. Efficiently automated processes are also in demand here. In addition to suitable software and hardware, what helps immensely is a laboratory workstation that can be flexibly and modularly adapted to the respective requirements.

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This much is certain: The lab 4.0 will be smart (symbol image)
This much is certain: The lab 4.0 will be smart (symbol image)
(Source: ©Paulista -

Frankfurt a.M., Dresden/Germany — The Lab 4.0 — when will it come? What will it look like? Is it already here (in rudimentary form)? It is clear that increasing digitalisation will not stop at the laboratory. In times of increasing sample volumes, it creates the prerequisite for automating processes and thus making them more efficient. Especially in research and development, laboratories are also faced with the challenge that work requirements and the methods and technical equipment needed sometimes change very dynamically. What helps here is one thing above all: flexibility. On the part of the employees, on the part of the technical equipment — and also on the part of the laboratory facilities.

Designing the laboratory workplace in a modular way

The I-Hex system developed at the TU Dresden, which Peter Schmidt, head of product development at SmartLab Solutions GmbH and research associate at TU Dresden Smart-Lab-Systems, presented during his Achema Pulse lecture, offers precisely this possibility. The system allows the modular design of the laboratory workstation according to the requirements of the workflow to be processed and can be reconfigured as desired. This is made possible by hexagonal I-Hex elements that are attached to each other at the edges. Mobile elements can be connected to static elements, ensuring the transmission of power and data, such as Ethernet or RS485 signals, via an integrated connector.

Each I-Hex element has its own power and Ethernet connection, which is used to connect laboratory devices in a network. These can then be controlled via a workflow process management system.

The devices used in a workflow can be placed on the surfaces of the individual elements or even integrated directly, so that only the important functional parts of the device are available to the user and workspace is not wasted unnecessarily.

A “hexagonal interface”

In summary, the I-Hex system should not be seen as pure hexagonal laboratory furniture, but rather as an interface between the laboratory infrastructure, the required equipment, its control software and the laboratory staff themselves. Thanks to the modular connection of individual elements, the workplace can be set up according to the workflow. This offers a high degree of flexibility and time efficiency, as everything necessary is available in one place.

Since the transformation to Lab 4.0 is more than just a new piece of laboratory furniture, the company supports and accompanies customers in this process upon request: In a first analysis step, a detailed survey and interpretation of the status quo in the various workflows takes place. In a subsequent planning step, the work processes are transformed with the aim of creating compatibility between the methods of digitalisation and the Internet of Things. This includes the redefinition of the work processes in the specifications and requirements including implementation planning. In the implementation step, the planned content is then implemented, including device installation and commissioning as well as training and transformation support.