To improve data quality, compliance, and process efficiency, Boehringer Ingelheim needed to eliminate paper documentation and manual processes and implement a digital system for registering incoming samples from clinical studies.

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Boehringer Ingelheim ranks among the twenty leading enterprises of the pharmaceutical industry. It has been family-owned since its establishment in the year 1885. The research focus lies on the three business segments: human pharmaceuticals, animal health and biopharmaceuticals. Approximately 50,000 employees are working worldwide to develop new innovative therapies that can extend the life of patients. In the realm of animal health, Boehringer Ingelheim stands for forward-thinking prevention.

The Challenge

In addition to robot supported processes, many flexible, manual process steps are indispensable in research laboratories. In order to support these and consequently promote the innovative core competencies, Boehringer Ingelheim wanted to offer applications in the heterogeneous device and the IT environment of its laboratories for the most diverse mobile devices, whether they be simple web pages or complex AR applications. In this way, manual processes are supported in such a way that innovative and qualitatively high-grade work that is more efficient and less prone to error is possible through digitalization.

In an initial project, the pharmaceutical enterprise has established a digital system for registering incoming samples from clinical trials at its research site in Biberach. Several thousand samples from a study that previously had to be manually reconciled with lists can now be recorded in an automated manner. "The manual registration of incoming samples with paper tables was very labor-intensive and resource-consuming," explains Oliver Schanz, IT Team Leader at Boehringer Ingelheim. "Checking off every sample by hand consistently leads to errors; also for hygienic reasons, this process, in which all sample tubes are registered and examined by hand, was not ideal."


The Solution

To implement the envisaged Digital Sample Registration, the responsible persons at Boehringer Ingelheim sought an equal partner, a company of a certain size and one that likewise has an international presence. "Personal collaboration in various countries is very expedient for the worldwide rollout of the new solution and upcoming projects in Asia and the USA," according to Automation Architect Christian Späth from Boehringer Ingelheim. "An enterprise the size of PTC gives us planning security for longer-term global projects."

Following an initial shortlist, three bidders were evaluated by Boehringer Ingelheim. "What we particularly liked about PTC was that all components – from the linking of various systems and data sources all the way to visualization – are offered from one source, regardless of whether it's for a cell phone, PC or AR glasses. PTC covers the entire spectrum. What was decisive for us was the modular approach with numerous components that one can use, but is not obligated to use. This concept, combined with manifold possibilities for individual customization through which we can develop or completely program components ourselves gave the impetus for PTC," according to Oliver Schanz. Furthermore, the AR solution, Vuforia, from PTC that Schanz had become acquainted with at a conference, had fascinated him from the very beginning.

After the evaluation of several Use Cases, the responsible IT persons from Boehringer Ingelheim defined the requirements of Digital Sample Registration and developed an initial concept in a three-day Kick-Off Workshop together with their business colleagues and the experts from PTC. It already included applications, processes and also the technical platform, such as the linking of a database, for example. Through a regular exchange of information, within approximately three months, a functioning prototype was then developed. In the process, Boehringer Ingelheim instituted agile project management in which the feedback of the future users from the lab was continuously incorporated. The result is tablets with integrated laser scanner with which the incoming sample tubes are scanned in by an automated process. The data are transferred into the internal LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) and verified there.

This first digitalization step toward the paperless lab is a door opener to many other processes that we want to implement incrementally worldwide.

Oliver Schanz, IT Team Leader at Boehringer Ingelheim

The Result

The first version of Digital Sample Registration achieved a time savings during sample registration for the laboratory that greatly reduced the burden of the staff. "We are now working faster," says Oliver Schanz. "Moreover, thanks to PTC, we are now achieving higher accuracy and better compliance. This first digitalization step toward the paperless lab is a door opener to many other processes that we want to incrementally implement worldwide." All advantages of the new solution will only be evident once the system is in use nationwide and comprehensively validated. At the moment, Digital Sample Registration is receiving a lot of positive feedback from staff.


"The colleagues in the R&D labs are thrilled with the new system that makes their work easier," says Schanz. What the two main persons in charge at Boehringer Ingelheim especially liked about PTC was the outstanding and very productive collaborative culture of workplace equality. Because of the central interface between Boehringer Ingelheim and the PTC Customer Success Team, the pathways were short and efficient. "We could always rapidly and proficiently clarify requirements and problems, and continuously advanced the entire project together", according to Christian Späth in conclusion.

In the future, the use of the AR solution, Vuforia Chalk, is planned at Boehringer Ingelheim in various divisions of the enterprise, for example, in production, maintenance, in the lab and for training. Remaining questions with regard to security and data protection will be clarified in advance. AR is also to be employed in upcoming version 2.0 of the Digital Sample Registration. Then R&D lab staff can invoke the instructions for analyses directly from a tablet and review them via AR features. New process steps can be documented directly. Former printouts on paper, handwritten notes and later entries are dispensed with entirely. In doing so, another significant step toward a digital paperless laboratory is realized.