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Lab 4.0 is a topic of much discussion at the moment. And rightfully so, because it is not just some passing trend. There is real change taking place in technology and in the way people think. I will explain why. Firstly, there is a confluence of technologies that need to work together in a coordinated fashion. Secondly, people are thinking about how best to use these technologies, what role they can play and what the goals of lab 4.0 should be. These changes require new knowledge, skills and a whole host of changes, both to the infrastructure and to the internal processes at laboratories. But what exactly is lab 4.0? What are its goals and what is the timeline on when they might be achieved? I will answer these and other questions in my blog post.

History of Industry 4.0

The industrial era (Industry 1.0) started around 1800, beginning with the steam engine, which reduced the amount of physical labour people had to perform. It gave them a tool that allowed them to work more efficiently and be more productive. In the late 19th century, electricity was harnessed as a source of power, marking the start of Industry 2.0. This also ushered in the age of process automation, which made it possible to increase productivity and reduce production costs. The computer marked the next phase in industrial development. Civil engineer Konrad Ernst Otto Zuse developed the first working computer in 1941, ushering in the third industrial revolution in the 1970s. During this era, the focus was on automation, networking and communication.

Unlike the first three industrial revolutions, there was no major breakthrough that brought about the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 was launched in Germany in 2011 as a forward-looking project within the country’s high-tech strategy, with the aim of preparing for the future of production. One key feature is ‘high levels of product customisation with extremely flexible (large-scale) production’. The aim here is to make production autonomous, self-optimising and fully networked. To achieve this goal, the processes are to be fully networked, digitalised and automated. Other aspects such as data analysis, intelligent data management and processing, human-machine interaction and advanced technologies play an important role, as well.

Lab 4.0

Laboratories did not go through these phases of development like industry did. The lab has, of course, changed over the years as technical advances have been made. Nevertheless, the pace of change was gradual and much different than in industry. It cannot be compared with the developments that took place in many other sectors, first and foremost in production. Since the first industrial revolution, all development efforts have focused on optimising processes through automation, connectivity and ultimately through digitalisation. Another aim of Industry 4.0 is to integrate cyber-physical systems (CPS). (A CPS refers to mechanical components that are connected via networks and modern IT systems.) The situation is much different at labs.

Since labs have not continued to change and evolve, they are now feeling the pressure to catch up in a number of areas and do this all at once. Without question, lab 4.0 is part of industry 4.0, since the goal of full integration can only be achieved if the processes in the laboratory and the data generated by them are also linked to all of a company’s other processes and data.

Goals of lab 4.0 and the related challenges

Thanks to technological advances, it is now possible to analyse larger amounts of data than ever before, opening up a number of possibilities in the life sciences that had previously been inconceivable. This is made possible through the use of automation solutions, highly connected instruments and devices, high-quality data management and analysis as well as real-time monitoring and management of all processes. The goals of lab 4.0 must first be achieved before its full potential can be tapped in research and production, since these technologies and concepts are needed in many areas.

This will also allow laboratories to solve the data processing problem. The main objective of lab 4.0 is therefore to integrate digital technologies and concepts into the laboratory environment in order to optimise efficiency, productivity, quality and data collection. What are the technologies involved? This primarily involves automation, robotics, AI, big data analytics and IoT. Following the example of Industry 4.0, the intended goal of lab 4.0 is end-to-end digitalisation. Industry 5.0, the fifth industrial revolution, describes the use of new technologies (primarily AI) to control robots. Lab 5.0, which may be just around the corner, describes how fully digitised labs can further optimise their data and processes with the aid of AI. Until then, lab 4.0 focuses on the integration of all new technologies, including AI.

It entails not only the use of digital technologies but also having all data being available in digital format as well as the optimal management of this data and the further insights gained from it. Artificial intelligence and big data analytics will play an important role here. We do not yet know what the exact impact of this technology will be, since it has only been used in the life sciences for a relatively short period of time. To begin with, the laboratories will have to be fully digitalised before these technologies can be used. And that is also one of the main challenges, namely the digitalisation of laboratory processes in the highly heterogeneous IT landscapes typically found in a lab.


Inspired by Industry 4.0, the goals of lab 4.0 include end-to-end digitalisation, the connection of all instruments and devices, data management and analytics, comprehensive real-time process monitoring and control as well as the virtualisation and simulation of processes.

The use of AI and big data is also seen as one of the aims of lab 4.0, even if this is one of the defined goals of Industry 5.0 but not of Industry 4.0. However, since lab 5.0 is not yet in use, lab 4.0 is about the integration of all current and future technologies. This could change in the near future, with laboratories now facing major challenges in their efforts to digitalise. When laboratories have been fully digitalised, a new era will begin with the integration of AI and big data technologies. This will revolutionise work in the lab and usher in a new era in laboratories.

Are you looking to leverage digitalisation to optimise your labs but are not sure where to start? Or do you have any urgent questions that you need answering? Then contact us. We offer fast and free consultation on laboratory digitisation.

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Picture Juan Carlos Peñafiel Suárez

Author Juan Carlos Peñafiel Suárez

Juan Carlos Peñafiel Suárez is a senior consultant in the life sciences sector at adesso. His background is in biotechnology and he has several years of experience in laboratory automation and process optimisation in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry.

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