With our world continuing to move into an increasingly digital space, laboratories must keep pace with the speed of digitalization — or risk being left behind. Enter cloud-connected lab instruments.
In today’s data-driven era, the demand for rapid test results and optimized laboratory operations are challenges driving the push for digitalization. With digital tools and solutions routinely improving laboratory workflows and addressing other operational challenges, the future of labs will undoubtedly be digitized.
To help our client — a leading life sciences instruments, software and services company — ameliorate efficiency- and productivity-related challenges in laboratories, we designed and developed a multitenant laboratory instrument management system in Amazon Web Services cloud. Equipped with a state-of-the-art management system to connect lab instruments via AWS IoT Core, our client can now minimize instrument downtime and reduce the IT burden on laboratory managers.
As new and improved smarter technologies come online, manual processes are more frequently replaced by automated technologies and integrated applications — without compromising result quality, cost-effectiveness or laboratory space.
One common challenge laboratories face is the high cost of instrument downtime, whether planned or unplanned. Recent research reveals that almost 75% of lab workers identify unplanned downtime as one of the top factors limiting their lab’s productivity, with more than two in three lab employees finding instrument maintenance and downtime to be a top five challenge.
Manual updates are expensive and time-consuming — and are therefore frequently avoided by lab managers. Plus, calibration and compliance testing must be executed every time software is updated, further increasing the time and money investment. Worse yet, many laboratories put off purchasing newer instruments, whether due to time and cost concerns or worries about the risk of the new device not working and needing to troubleshoot. And when faults occur, they need to be remediated as quickly as possible to avoid the negative consequences of instrument or system downtime.
Since our client has thousands of advanced analytical instruments installed in labs worldwide, managing instrument maintenance, consumables and software updates without a digital management system remained challenging. Complicating the issue, our client couldn’t collect invaluable usage and performance data from outdated instruments to maximize uptime with proactive maintenance.
Smart technologies can combat many critical challenges existing lab workflows often face. By connecting everyday lab instruments to the internet and making them “smart,” companies across industries realize new opportunities to learn how instruments are utilized in real time — and adapt future designs accordingly.
Our client provides laboratories around the world with instruments, services, consumables, applications and expertise across the life sciences sector. Transforming traditional labs into smart, technologically-driven laboratories allows companies like our client to provide better instrumentation and services to their customers. To that end, our client sought to leverage the AWS cloud to securely connect disparate lab instruments to the cloud and streamline laboratory efficiencies.
Whether due to poor lab maintenance, insufficient consumables, out-of-date software or a general lack of expertise about the instrument, downtime leads to costly delays and frustrations that can damage a lab’s reputation and ability to deliver high-quality results reliably. Since our client relies on customers to report problems with instruments, designing and developing an AWS cloud-based lab instrument management system enables a connected lab environment in which maintenance support calls can be made and instruments can be remotely managed and monitored from a single point.
In building the cloud system, we ran into a few technical challenges. First, most of our client’s software is essentially a collection of thick client desktop applications, making cloud management increasingly complex. Compounding the concern, the lab network environment, firewalls and IT policies all vary considerably among our client’s customers, making a “plug-and-play” solution more challenging to design. Finally, many of the current instruments do not have cloud connectivity, run on various operating systems and have different CPU and memory capabilities.
As a stepping stone to cloud-connected lab instruments, we chose to first develop a cloud-connected “instrument controller,” a Linux computer installed in the lab that connects to the instruments and the cloud, allowing us to run our client’s existing software while adding cloud-connected functionality. With this approach, all instruments continue to function as before, as the connected-instrument device (CID) routes all instrument communication directly to its internal controller.
The connected-instrument device was designed to route all outbound traffic to the cloud over secure HTTPS on port 443, reducing the probability of problems related to customer network environments, firewalls and IT policies. Additionally, the CID was designed for simplicity so that customers only have to follow a simple setup process in the web dashboard to connect the instrument to the instrument network and the internet.
As an AWS Partner with cloud skills, we recommended cloud-connected lab instruments and instrument controllers use AWS IoT Core with device shadows. IoT Core shortens the development cycle and reduces the risk of deploying new technology. The solution lets users connect billions of IoT devices and route trillions of messages to AWS services without managing infrastructure. Between secure data transfer and control operations, lab managers increasingly demand the cloud instrument connectivity AWS delivers.
With our AWS-based cloud solution, all lab instruments are connected via AWS IoT Core and remotely managed via web applications deployed on CloudFront, Lambda and API Gateway. The system we built for our client enables customers to perform remote software updates, configure instruments without a technician, collect analytical data and system logs, monitor performance and even access the instruments themselves for remote debugging. Storing its data on RDS, S3 and IoT Core, the cloud-based instrument management system is largely serverless and can scale to tens of thousands of instruments and users.
Cloud-connected lab instruments help reduce downtime because all necessary software updates can be remotely managed and applied automatically across many geographical locations via a web dashboard, improving instrument performance and reliability. Cloud connectivity also enables lab managers to review the current state of their instrument fleet and streamline reporting and compliance in real time.
With the innovative cloud-connected lab instrument management system in place, our client is reducing the number of on-site support technician calls and invariably improving the efficiency of its customer labs.
Lab managers now no longer have to spend time manually configuring or calibrating instruments, performing software updates or managing compliance. Additionally, our client can now collect precious instrument performance and usage information (with customer permission). When that information remains local in the instrument, it cannot be utilized to improve the customer’s lab environment and performance. The new cloud-based dashboard can encourage labs to purchase newer instruments, software, services or consumables.
By combining intelligent technology and the cloud to understand what every piece of laboratory equipment is doing, our client is essentially creating the lab of the future. As our client’s customers seek to remain competitive in a world in which scientific innovation is accelerating, cloud-connected lab instruments are transforming how data is created, collected, managed and effectively used in lab ecosystems worldwide. Maintaining that competitive edge in a world of constant change depends on leveraging cloud connectivity to become a genuinely digitalized lab.
If you’re interested in learning more about Cardinal Peak’s healthcare product design services, contact us today.