Accelerating laboratory automation with IoT

An interview with Sridhar Iyengar, describing how cloud connected IoT sensors accelerate laboratory science.

Please outline the term "Lab of the Future"

The Lab of the Future is essentially a connected lab in which data flows seamlessly from equipment to the Cloud to all the people who need to access it. The Operations Manager needs to know if a piece of equipment is running properly. The quality and compliance person needs data records for regulatory filings like CFR part 11. The research scientist needs to know that his experimental processes are in control and that the environment isn’t negatively affecting machine operation. In order to make sure everything runs smoothly it just makes sense to measure everything; IoT makes this a reality.

What are some of the challenges that you see in artificial intelligence?

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AI is certainly one of the hot buzzwords of the day, but as we talk to experts in the field they all point to the same challenge - getting accurate, complete data sets. AI isn’t necessarily easy to do, but it can be pretty straightforward and there are many packages available today to help you see correlations and patterns in the data. However, these are only as good as the data itself. People tell us over and over that getting good data is the much greater challenge. That’s why we decided to make the full stack solution from ingesting the data via our own IoT sensors, to uploading it to our Cloud and analyzing it using our dashboard and algorithms.

 

Internet of Things is also a hot topic of late. What is Elemental Machines doing with IoT devices and what benefits does that provide?

Very simply, we are using IoT sensors and devices to capture copious amounts of data continuously and without any intervention from the user. These data can then be used for many purposes, the simplest of which is monitoring cold storage to ensure valuable assets, such as biosamples, reagents, food, medicine, vaccines and other stored materials are kept at or below the proper temperature.

If the temperature rises above a predetermined level, an alert is sent to the responsible parties so they can remedy the situation before any product loss is incurred. There are many other uses for the data such as quality systems, regulatory filings like 21 CFR Part 11, equipment utilization, predictive maintenance of equipment and process optimization.

Alerting and monitoring of cold storage devices has been happening for years. What makes Elemental Machines unique?

That’s certainly true and we feel like we do that as well as anybody. Our sensors install in under a minute with no power cables or other wires. People really like our web-based platform for accessing information and setting up alerts. What really sets us apart, is that we collect all the data from equipment and the environment and use it to enable insights into your process like equipment utilization, predictive maintenance and process optimization. We are not just an alerting and monitoring solution.

Anybody can purchase IoT sensors relatively cheaply and create their own system. Why buy vs. build?

A lot of customers say that. In fact, some have even built their own homemade systems and ended up replacing them with our system. In the case of cold storage monitoring you really do want super reliable coverage without false alarms. The details of this get tricky when you consider power outages, server outages, WiFi outages, storms, vacations, daylight savings time; all these things can affect the process.

We have built a super reliable backbone with redundancy to withstand these challenges. It’s not as easy as it may sound at first. And why would a life sciences company (for instance) want to spend their time doing this? It’s not part of their core competency. They would be much better off letting us do it and focusing their efforts on what creates value for them.

What other data challenges are you supporting?

Incubator with Element DThere is a lot of legacy equipment out there in which the data is really just locked up. People are using paper records or manually entering data into Electronic Lab Notebooks or LIMS systems. There is a better way. Our Element-D (for data) IoT device connects to a wide variety of equipment like incubators, balances, pH meters, blood gas analyzers and really anything with a 4-20 mA output. The Element-D automatically ingests the data (and in many cases the metadata) and stores it in the Cloud where you can access through your dashboard or we can make it readily available to other databases via our API.

What industries can benefit from IoT sensors?

We’ve talked to people from a number of different industries such as agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, IT, food service and energy. Basically anywhere there is equipment that can be monitored or an environment that can affect process outcomes, is a candidate for IoT. Whether you are growing cannabis in a greenhouse or making biodiesel from algae, your environment and your equipment can have a profound effect on the outcome. Why not measure it 24/7 to find out? It’s much cheaper than losing process yield.

About Sridhar Iyengar

Sridhar Iyengar is the CEO of Elemental Machines. A serial entrepreneur in connected medical devices and wearables, Sridhar is focused on strategy and management at Elemental Machines. Previously, Sridhar was a founder and director of Misfit, makers of elegant wearable products, which was acquired by Fossil in 2015. Prior to Misfit, he founded AgaMatrix, a blood glucose monitoring company that made the world’s first medical device connecting directly to the iPhone.