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Industry 4.0 Universal Communication Standard Coming for Laboratory Equipment

In Germany, work is underway to develop a standard to allow all sorts of laboratory equipment to communicate with higher-level computer systems and ultimately with manufacturing.
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Universal laboratory equipment communication standard is in development.

In August, the international nonprofit OPC Foundation announced a new initiative aimed at extending Industry 4.0 connectivity to laboratory instruments. A new “Joint Working Group” (JWG) has been established with the goal of creating a “manufacturer-independent, open standard for analytical and laboratory equipment” or “Laboratory Agnostic Device Standard” (LADS) based on OPC UA, the “open communication platform for cross-vendor communication and interoperability in industrial automation processes” developed by the OPC Foundation and which is becoming a keystone of global Industry 4.0 technology.

The JWG brings together the OPC Foundation; VDMA, the German machinery industry association; and Spectaris, the German industry association for the high-tech, medium-sized business sector in the areas of medical technology, consumer optics, photonics, and analytical, bio and laboratory technology. Spectaris (spectaris.de) has apparently taken the lead in this effort by establishing a “Networked Laboratory Equipment” working group of 25 members. Spectaris also refers to this initiative as “Laboratory 4.0.”

The LADS is aimed at connecting laboratory equipment with computer systems such as LIMS (laboratory information management systems) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) for functions such as sample tracking, and data and document management, as well as with process monitoring and control, predictive maintenance, and process data management. Ultimately, the JWG hopes to forge links between Laboratory 4.0 and Industry 4.0 manufacturing equipment such as weigh,ing, vision and CNC systems. Anticipated benefits include elimination of human errors, reduction in variance in test sequences, reduction in documents and numbers of tests to be performed, and real-time approvals.

Current activities include creation of a structure for exchanging information with users (User Review Committees), development of taxonomy for this branch of industry, and development of an information model for the industry. Planned activities include establishing a central test facility, certification model, and a platform for exchanging information with other standardization bodies. The ultimate goal is publication of a standard for wide-scale use by the fourth quarter of 2023.

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