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  • Fast Moving Trends in Life Science Automation and Robotics

    by Brian Handerhan

    Parker Hannifin Electromechanical Division N.A.

    1140 Sandy Hill Road Irwin, PA 15642


  • 2Fast Moving Trends in Life Science Automation and Robotics

    The Results of Parker Hannifin’s Survey of Industry Experts

    This document represents the culmination of a Parker Hannifin survey series administered to help drive research and development of automation trends in the life sciences. It is also the last in a series of whitepapers on the very trends our survey takers indicated were most important to them. It will answer two critical questions from the perspective of industry experts:

    • Which industry trends are contributing most to the development of effective life sciences solutions?

    • What challenges do instrument developers still face in automating those solutions?

    The insights shared by these professionals are helping Parker develop motion control and automation solutions that will, in turn, help the industry develop life-improving solutions for all people.

    We are sharing the data and insights from this research to drive awareness of these trends and challenges in the life sciences, create a common understanding of those trends and challenges, and to initiate an open dialog on how to leverage the strengths and address the opportunities. We will walk you through trends you can look forward to, those you’ll need to prepare for and we’ll illustrate how opinions about both can— and must—drive the dialog in various segments of the life science community.

  • 3Fast Moving Trends in Life Science Automation and Robotics

    Executive summary In analyzing the first of our two major questions, we found that the overwhelming majority of respondents (84%) identified Automation Technologies and Transformative Technologies as the key trends driving improvement in life science instruments.

    From these two major categories, Modular Automation, Miniaturization, and Lab-on-a-Chip were seen as the largest overall factors driving improvement in the future of life science instruments.

    • Modular automation was identified as a key tool in reducing overall product development time because this technology can be easily re-applied in future designs, allowing for reduced verification, validation and qualification cycles. Leveraging modular automation was also identified by OEM managers as having the positive impact of allowing them to attack lower volume applications than could normally be justified, which created additional customer value because of their ability to supply more complete laboratory automation solutions.

    • Miniaturization was identified as helping instrument manufacturers meet the demand for smaller instruments that consume less laboratory space, consume less reagents and require smaller test samples. From the end user perspective, these were identified as critical to reducing the overall cost of ownership of an instrument.

    • Lab-on-a-chip is the transformative technology that most respondents identified as having the most immediate impact and having the largest potential to revolutionize the industry.

    In response to the second of our two major questions, the majority of respondents (74%) identified three sets of challenges: Cost, Quality & Regulatory, and Safety & Ease of Use.

    Modular Automation


    Collaborative Robotics

    Servo Positioning

    Internet of Things/Cloud


    Big DataDistributed Motion

    A ut

    om at

    io n

    Te ch

    no lo

    gi es

    Tr an

    sf or

    m at

    iv e

    Te ch

    no lo

    gi es

  • 4Fast Moving Trends in Life Science Automation and Robotics

    Of these three categories, Reducing Costs generated the most signifi cant individual feedback. However, there was signifi cant disparity in what this means, depending on the perspective of the respondent. Ultimately, the top-level driver is the trend toward smaller reimbursements to the laboratory, which are forcing cost reductions down to the OEM and the component suppliers. Users are looking at the cost model from a per-test perspective and a fl oor space perspective, while OEMs are looking at their bill of material cost and their engineering costs.

    Methodology and demographics Our survey methodology was simple and straightforward. Using social media and e-mail, Parker invited life sciences industry participants to fi ll out a survey administered via SurveyMonkey. The survey included a total of seven questions, including identifi cation, demographics, intended trade show participation, industry trends and industry challenges.

    From a demographic standpoint, we asked questions to be able to split the data in two separate ways based on the function of the respondent and the position their company holds in the industry.

    The function-based analysis allows us to break the respondents into three groupings:

    1. Technical Decision Makers (Engineering)

    2. Business Decision Makers (Management)

    3. Infl uencers (Other)

    The employer-based analysis allows us to break the respondents into four groupings:

    1. Suppliers to the Developers of Instruments

    2. Developers of Instruments

    3. Users of Instruments

    4. Industry Observers

    For the sake of clarity, our discussion will focus on how the two primary infl uencers in the life sciences— engineers and business managers—view industry opportunities and challenges.

    Supplier Quality and Reliability

    FDA Requirements

    Sample Identifi cation

    Increasing Robustness

    Q ua

    lit y

    & R

    eg ul

    at or


    Reducing Costs

    Reducing Instrument Size

    Decreasing Instrument Size

    Increasing Throughput

    Increasing Instrument Speed

    C os

    t C

    ha lle

    ng es

    Lack of User Training

    New Safety Requirements

    Better ServiceabilityS

    af et

    y &

    E as

    e of

    U se

    ■ We supply components to life science instruments

    ■ We develop life science instruments

    ■ We use life science instruments

    ■ We aren’t directly tied to the industry, but I’m a keen observer





    ■ 16% Engineering

    ■ 50% Other

    ■ 34% Management

    50% 34%


  • 5Fast Moving Trends in Life Science Automation and Robotics

    Survey fi ndings In looking at the responses regarding trends that are either improving or will improve how these professionals do their jobs, these were the trends about which they are most excited:

    Modular Automation – Using pre-engineered elements that have defi ned performance characteristics allows for more rapid machine design, requiring fewer iterations. These innovations have been through verifi cation and validation processes and can accelerate the overall process to get an instrument through qualifi cations.

    Miniaturization of Motion Control and Fluidics – Reducing the size of the major subsystems used in the life sciences enables developers to shrink their instruments so they consume less laboratory space, require fewer reagents and process smaller specimens.

    Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) – The goal of scaling a single lab process down to a chip format is to reduce fl uidic volumes to less than a picoliter, thus downsizing the reagents and specimen samples and their associated costs. LOC also promises faster time to results and higher throughput due to mass parallel processing. This technology is still too new to have reached widespread use.

    Internet of Things (IoT) – This is a network of devices embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity, enabling it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices.

    Contract Manufacturing


    Collaborative Robotics


    Big Data 9%

    IoT/Cloud Connectivity


    Miniaturization 14%

    Lab-on-a-Chip 13%

    Modular Automation


    Other 17%

    Most Promising Trends for Life Science Professionals

  • 6Fast Moving Trends in Life Science Automation and Robotics

    Big Data – This plays a key role in enabling quantum leaps forward in DNA and molecular technologies. The ability to process so much data, so quickly, continues to be a major driver for reducing cycle times and creating sampling technologies that are much faster.

    Collaborative Robotics – This involves devices that can operate in parallel with humans without the need for safety guards and interlocks because the robotic devices are inherently safe for human interaction.

    Contract Manufacturing – Instrument providers are subcontracting the manufacture of their instruments to 3rd party manufacturers, enabling an increase in production capacity and fl exibility, while reducing overall manufacturing cost.

    Other trends mentioned in these surveys include:

    1. Distributed Machine Control – A control architecture for reducing cabling and control panel size.

    2. Wireless Communications – Leveraging wireless technology to reduce cabling in instruments.

    3. Mass Customization – A manufacturing approach to make low volume production cost effective.


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