Worth Reading - Interview with Prof. Dr. K. Thurow

GIT: How would you define laboratory automation?

K. Thurow:  If you apply the general definition of automation to the laboratory area, laboratory automation means that all processes and procedures in the laboratory are possible without direct human intervention. This includes not only the implementation of the individual process steps, but also the control and regulation as well as (partly) the control of automation systems.


GIT: In your opinion, what are the most elementary components of laboratory automation?

K. Thurow: In the age of digitization, laboratory automation is primarily understood as a networking of devices, an exchange of data, etc. However, laboratory automation also requires suitable devices and systems that can take over the process steps that are usually carried out manually by humans. This sounds trivial, but depending on the course of a laboratory process, it can become arbitrarily complicated. For me, laboratory automation is clearly the automation of both the material flow and the information (data) flow.



GIT: What requirements do you think automation needs to meet?

K. Thurow: The classic answer here would be that automation has to be robust and reliable and that the cost/benefit ratio is right and throughput has to be increased etc. For me the most important requirement is that automation has to be made for people. It must support people in their work, not hinder them and, of course, not harm them either.


GIT: How you you feel about using robots?

K. Thurow: Spontaneously, I would say I love robots. They have conquered so many areas of our lives today and it is impossible to imagine our world without them. I see robots as good tools to make work easier for us humans, to relieve us of ergonomically difficult, boring, repetitive or even hazardous work. 


GIT: What are the benefits of automation? (keyword digitization and connectivity)

K. Thurow: Automation standardizes processes and thus their results. Especially in the scientific field, the lack of reproducibility of research results is often lamented. With automation we can solve this problem very well. The increasing connectivity of devices and systems leads to fewer transmission errors and enables better data exchange and access to data for a growing number of people. However, increasing digitization also harbors problems, e.g. with regard to data security and protection.


GIT: Unfortunately, many people think that automation will take away their jobs. What is your answer to these people?

K. Thurow: It's true, this argument was used for a long time and is still used today as a justification, e.g. for the introduction of an unconditional basic income. In the meantime, however, there are a number of serious studies showed that automation, also in connection with the use of robots, creates more jobs than it destroys. Someone has to develop, program, operate, maintain, etc. all the new robots and systems. Yes, our working world will change. Predominantly manual activities will disappear and automated processes will increase. However, companies that automate in Germany usually do not have job cuts in mind when it comes to automation. Rather, the focus is on questions of increasing efficiency and solutions to the problem of the increasing shortage of skilled workers. Ultimately, it's about preserving Germany as a business location - inconceivable for me without automation.


GIT: What is your book aimed at? (target group)

K. Thurow: The book was originally intended for students who receive training in biomedical process engineering from us. The aim was to have a comprehensive compilation of everything that is involved in laboratory automation, which concepts and solutions are available. In addition to the presentation of possible devices and systems, it is also about conveying the underlying physical principles and factors that have a significant influence on the automation and its results. The result is a book that is aimed at anyone who would like to automate their laboratory work environment. It is equally a basis for laboratory technicians, technicians, scientists and decision-makers. 


GIT: What is the most important part of your book?

K. Thurow: The book is quite broad. First of all, it offers an insight into the basic concepts and system structures of automation systems. Solutions for automating individual process steps are then explained. These are dosing processes, of course, but also questions of tempering, mixing, sample purification and sample identification. Further sections are dedicated to robotics and common analytical methods in the laboratory. There is also an overview of interfaces in laboratory automation and process control and workflow management systems are presented.


GIT: What do you think will enable us to automate the labs in the future?

K. Thurow: From a technical point of view, we will be able to achieve increasing sample throughputs in many areas through automation, which e.g. is important in medical diagnostics. From an economic point of view, automation is, in my opinion, the only way to remain competitive and to fight an increasing shortage of skilled workers. Our working world will change, we will have more time to reflect on what makes people special: thinking and acting as social beings. For me personally, there will hopefully be interesting and exciting processes for a long time to come that should and must be automated in the laboratory.


Wiley Analytical Sciences