In the medical context, the laboratory is a central element of diagnostics – this is where samples are analyzed for their components, and conclusions drawn on the state of health from the results. But laboratories are also an integral part of all areas of research, development and industrial production. The quality of products is generally assessed in laboratories, because all of the equipment is available there to make reproducible measurements and to compare the results with specified targets. The necessary measurement and analysis technology ranges from the weighing scales to the gas chromatograph, from the slide rule to the mass spectrometer. These devices have to be regularly maintained and calibrated, and pose special requirements for the installation room, for example in terms of ventilation and air conditioning. This is why laboratories are very complex and cost-intensive to build and to operate. The laboratory sector thus extends – from crafts to research, from device development to maintenance – over a very wide economic range.
Not only for samples and products, but also in the analysis, assessment and control of processes and sequences, laboratory technology plays an ever-increasing role especially in terms of digitalization (Internet of things) and automation (Industry 4.0). In particular, the online measurement directly at/in the process as far as possible in real-time can be regarded as a major challenge for the future.
For as long as it has existed, the Fraunhofer IBMT has been working very diversely in the field of laboratory technology, both as a researcher and developer as well as a user. This role, and the associated know-how, means that its scientists are able to respond to current, leading-edge trends, to shape them and sometimes even to anticipate them. One example of this is the idea of combining an electronic memory chip physically with the sample containers. This way, each sample has its own memory, and can control the workflow directly in the correspondingly electronically equipped and automated labs. Another fundamental approach is the uncompromising combination of laboratory and mobility. This approach led to the development of the first civil mobile diagnostic laboratory for highly infectious samples (BSL 3) on the basis of a semitrailer truck, which was then used successfully in South Africa in the field of HIV and tuberculosis.
In the area of laboratory technology, these competences will now be brought together and bundled separately from the department and working group hierarchy. From the health information systems to clinical ultrasound, right up to biobanks and automation in biotechnology, all of the main departments of the Fraunhofer IBMT will be included through a single contact liaison. The latter will be available to answer enquiries and communicate and advance project ideas in a dedicated manner. The engagement of Fraunhofer will also be focussed here in the association "Laboratory of the Future". This is a sectoral alliance initiated in 2014 by the Fraunhofer IBMT along with the Saarland state government with the aim of shaping and preparing the next generation of laboratory technology. Here, and in the Laboratory Technology business area, companies outside of the sector (e. g. electronics, automotive engineering) are to be addressed and motivated to help in shaping active technology transfer to the laboratory sector.