SiLA is a global initiative to standardize software interfaces in the field of life science research instrumentation. Inspired by the pharmaceutical industry´s need for flexible laboratory automation, the initiative is supported by several device and software suppliers.
Understanding the mechanisms of life requires extensive, often repetitive, experimentation. Laboratory automation, therefore, has become instrumental to the discovery and validation of drug targets, and the discovery and development of drugs. Industry provides commercial laboratory devices to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks. However, combining equipment from different providers to work in concert often proves difficult or very expensive. Exporting captured data from proprietary software for further analysis can be impracticable or frustrating.
This situation leads to a waste of resources: Available equipment needs to be replaced due to incompatibility, software drivers have to be purchased or developed and data conversion is a very time consuming endeavour. Such technical obstacles also limit the complexity of integrated laboratory robotic platforms, and thereby often prevent the complete automation of processes. This impedes the much needed further efficiency gain in drug discovery and development.
Limitations of automated systems today
Flexibility of a system has to be planned-in from the beginning on including a guess of future needs. This leads to complex systems which need a long development time (requirements – design – build-up – testing) and which are quite expensive (high asset cost, high utilization). Furthermore, such systems are rather rigid (fixed instruments and defined scheduler) and therefore require mostly long development times and associated high cost for adaptations. The rearrangement of equipment and the implementation of new technology are only possible in a limited manner. Consequently, science adapts to system functionality
What is the basic idea of SiLA?
Initiate and develop standardized interfaces for device control, data, status messages etc. and thus create a “plug and play” philosophy for equipment. Like this we will achieve easy rearrangement of instruments and shorter design/build-up phases for systems which, in consequence, results in faster experiment cycles (measurement – evaluation – new measurement) Now, science drives system functionality
The SiLA standards
It is the aim of SiLA to remedy this situation by establishing globally its provider independent, open standard for device integration. So far, the standard interface and the communication protocol as well as the common command sets for the different device classes have been defined. In addition, SiLA actively supports the introduction of an open data interface standard and will distribute labware description files based on its universal labware specification standard. Finally, SiLA not only defines standards but also provides a certification of their implementation from an independent validation authority.
Based on this framework and first defined standards the proof of concept has been demonstrated by real implementations. During the MipTec 2012 in Basel, Switzerland, more than 10 talks about implementations and SiLA compliant products have been presented at the 3rd SiLA Conference. Contributors have been from SiLA member companies but also from non-member companies.
Next Activities of SiLA
The complementation of existing standards for equipment will be tasks for workgroups in the coming year: Pipettor: with sophisticated pipetting software which allows executing protocols including error handling functionality. Process Management System (PMS), which might be either a system with a scheduler and several devices or a pipettor workstation as well. Imaging (High Content Screening Reader) to evaluate what should be standardized and how this could be achieved The field of LIMS and ELN systems is very wide and therefore a ‘general and all-inclusive’ standardization is very difficult to achieve. SiLA would like to approach it in a pragmatic way and questions like “What kind of standardization might make the use of LIMS/ELN systems easier?” shall be discussed and answers elaborated. If you want to contribute to the mentioned topics in a workgroup please visit the SiLA website and respond to the corresponding blog.
During the coming year the certification process for SiLA compliant implementations will be established as well as the further propagation of the SiLA concept at conferences.
SiLA enables Pharma and Biotech R&D to focus on its main business by reducing equipment connectivity effort to a minimum. This is achieved by using proven, tested and maintained documentation and code. Standardizing the interconnectivity will dramatically reduce the implementation and testing effort, the risk of failure and finally costs. By joining SiLA, pharmaceutical and biotech companies send a tangible signal to automation and software suppliers that they intend to profit from the benefits of technical standardization in this field. This is the prerequisite to make it happen.
Being part of SiLA’s network allows user and supplier companies to influence and shape the development and implementation of its global standards. The initiative supports all members to profit from its standards as early adopters.
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