An operator shows a visitor how to use the smart laboratory developed by Nikyang Enterprise Ltd at its booth during the 2019 Beijing Conference and Exhibition on Instrumental Analysis. (Photo by Zheng Yiran / China Daily)
Labvo transforms existing equipment into platforms that are flexible and can be used for various R&D requirements
The future of a lab provider's business mode would be in using its unique technologies and experiences to provide various and intelligent laboratory solutions for each client, said Eric Wong, the top executive of a smart lab supplier.
The Hong Kong-based company, Nikyang Enterprise Ltd, has started a subsidiary called Labvo to handle its smart lab concept. Named from a combination of "laboratory" and "revolution", Labvo aims to bring revolutionary changes to the lab industry, making it more intelligent and user-friendly.
By making use of various tools, such as weighing units, diagnostic devices and solid-liquid separation instruments, smart labs can be transformed into various platforms, according to the research and development needs. Composed of hexagonal-shaped units of similar size, the whole platform is easy to arrange and connect.
"By combining various units, the smart laboratory concept allows various functions to be performed and tailor-made, which can be offered to clients across diversified industries. Currently, we are cooperating with enterprises in the pharmaceutical, traditional Chinese medicine, food, chemistry and related industries, as well as government regulatory institutions, such as the State Administration for Market Regulation," said Wong, CEO of Nikyang.
"Through the cooperation, we have further accumulated practical experiences, so that we can offer a more user-friendly smart lab solution to our clients," he said.
"Compared with traditional fully automatic labs, whose work-flow may be interrupted when there is a problem in any of its links, the smart lab enables researchers to replace the problematic link easily to ensure the smooth completion of the experiment," said Wing Lu, head of the smart lab research and development unit in Nikyang.
And the charm of a smart lab is more than that. When entering the smart lab, the lab operator is equipped with a pair of smart glasses - a small and lightweight wearable computer with a transparent display for hands-free work, which can offer him a guide to complete the experiment.
For example, when the display of the wearable glasses scans a sample, all related information, such as chemical composition, temperature, pH value, the last step of the previous operation, can be shown to the researcher, so that he knows exactly what to do in the next step of the experiment.
For every step of the experiment, the smart wearable glasses offer technical instructions, such as how to weigh the sample, how to use a pipette, etc. By interacting with the experimenter, the smart glasses can work out the perfect position to lay the sample, enabling the experimenter to complete the operation in the most comfortable manner and in the shortest time.
Industry website Ofweek noted that the intelligentization of labs is an inevitable trend. Through the design, construction, operation, management, development and other aspects of labs, using new technologies, new models and new methods, labs are enabled to play a technical support role in related fields.
"In the long run, in key nodes of the transformation and upgrading of traditional industries, only through constantly innovative development of technical main bodies such as labs, their expected goals can be achieved," it said.
According to Nikyang, apart from lab users, they are also connecting businesses with manufacturers of lab consumables to offer better user experience to researchers. The "Smart Logistics" function calculates lab consumables required for each experiment, and if it is estimated to be inadequate, the smart lab can automatically place an order to restock it.
A recent report issued by the National Lab Industry Research Institute showed that China's lab industry is estimated to expand at a 30 percent annual growth rate in the coming five years, and a newly added market space worth 20 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) is waiting to be tapped.
"The diversified pattern of China's lab industry has been gradually formed this year. Both the quantity and quality of labs are growing, and smart labs will be a future trend," said the report.
According to the report, investment into China's lab industry in 2019 reached 2.2 trillion yuan, and the investment is estimated to reach 3.4 trillion yuan in 2023, with an average annual growth rate of over 12 percent.
"By minimizing technical barriers in experiments, smart labs improve the efficiency of experiments and data integrity, further increasing the conversion efficiency of scientific research and achieving big data objectives. We foresee that the concept will be accepted and applied by most of labs in the future," Wong said.
He also noted that the development of a smart lab is a time-consuming process. "What we see today is just the beginning. To benefit more enterprises, we have a five-to-10-year plan for smart lab development. In the future, we hope more partners will join us."