Civilisation is built on mankind’s ability to invent and to realise visions through trial and error, which goes to show experimentation is instrumental for innovation and technology to bring value to modern society.
Indeed, experimentation has become a major industry in its own right, and serves to facilitate research and development (R&D) in medicine, electronics and information technology. As more products are being made and the manufacturing processes are becoming more complex, the equipment and solutions for experimentation must also evolve in order to better serve industries.
The automation of laboratories
The lab automation market for medical experiments, for one, is seeing massive growth – the value of the market is estimated to grow at a compound annual rate of 5.1% to reach US$5.2 Billion by 2022, from US$4.06 billion in 2017. The independent medical laboratory industry in China, though still in its infancy, has also witnessed strong growth, developing into a RMB 3.6 billion industry in 2015, from RMB 130 million in 2006, and it is still growing strong.
Nikyang Enterprise Limited, founded in 1998, is a laboratory equipment and solutions provider headquartered in Hong Kong, with an extensive network in China having set up offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and in-depth industry experience and knowledge. The company was initially a distributor of laboratory equipment, but gradually expanded from distributing small and medium sized equipment valued at about US$40,000-50,000 to providing large laboratory equipment and solutions valued at US$4-5 million. It has also extended beyond serving medicine and food industries to cover the petrochemical and material sectors.
Eric Wong, CEO of Nikyang, says that since joining Hong Kong Science Park in 2016, the company has continued to level up in the industry through proprietary R&D of automation equipment and the Smart Lab program.
Replacing repetitive manual work
Nikyang’s main business is developing automated laboratories with two goals in mind: to replace repetitive manual work, and utilise machinery, such as robotic arms and conveyer belts, to take on test tasks that are beyond human capabilities.
Take for example genetic testing in newborn babies. The automated sample extraction machine developed by Nikyang can analyse fluid and blood samples much quicker than through human effort, shortening the testing time from 45 minutes to two minutes. Nikyang has already conducted preliminary tests on the automated system through cooperation with Yan Chai Hospital.
Eric points out that hospital medicines, food products and daily necessities are all subject to thorough monitoring and require inspections daily, sometimes every hour. In such cases, automated systems can ensure the inspections are accurately done and meet all regulatory requirements.
Difficult experimentation produces high-quality products
Automation has also made hitherto humanly impossible tasks in harsh environment possible, such as conducting nanomaterial tests, radiation product analysis and fuel additive tests. Eric says that fuel additive tests require constant mixing of chemicals at a temperature of thousands of degrees, and any mistake in the composition of the chemicals could cause an explosion. With the help of automated labs, petrochemical product manufacturers are thus able to produce high-quality products that used to be a challenge for them.
Smart Lab optimises the innovation process
Automation of laboratories is currently the biggest trend in the market, but Nikyang has set its sights on Smart Lab. Smart Lab combines automated laboratories, ICT and big data to optimise the process and results of experimentation. In material testing, for example, Smart Lab can automatically adjust material formulas based on previous data to produce different samples, and then investigate the optimal formula.
Eric notes that Smart Lab is the focal point for Nikyang’s R&D. On one hand, the company will study the integration of different modules. On the other hand, the company will re-engineer production processes and reduce the size and scale of production to correspond with the unique needs of different industries.
Science Park provides an ideal R&D environment
Eric thinks Hong Kong Science Park is the ideal location for Nikyang to advance its R&D. The park’s laboratory facilities and equipment provide a great deal of convenience, while the recently opened Robotics Catalysing Centre allows the company to perform a variety of tests and proof-of-concept works.
Eric foresees huge demand for laboratory programs in the future, as many new products will continue to emerge in consumer and commercial markets. Mainland China is putting an emphasis on pharmaceutical and nursing industries under the strategy of “Healthy China 2030”, and will generate trillions of yuan worth of business opportunities in the next 10 years. Laboratories will play an important part, and about 20% of mainland laboratories will be automated. Nikyang will continue to use Hong Kong as its base to grow its Smart Lab business, leveraging its international advantage to tap the huge potential of the mainland market.