Standardization in Lab Automation

The SiLA consortium is a not-for-profit membership organization formed by software suppliers, system integrators and pharma/biotec corporations. This consortium for Standardization in Lab Automation (SiLA), develops and introduces new device and data interface standards allowing rapid integration of lab Automation hardware and data management systems. Highly skilled experts of member companies contribute in SiLA′s technical work groups. Membership is open for institutions, corporations and individuals active in the life science lab automation industry. The SiLA consortium provides professional training, support and certification services to suppliers and system integrators implementing SiLA compliant interfaces.


SiLA is the global initiative to standardize software interfaces in the field of life science research instrumentation. Instigated by the pharmaceutical industry's need for flexible laboratory automation, the initiative is supported by major device and software suppliers worldwide.


Understanding the mechanisms of life requires extensive, often repetitive, experimentation. Laboratory automation, therefore, has become instrumental to the progress of the life sciences. Industry provides commercial laboratory devices to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks. However, combining equipment from different providers to work in concert often proves impossible. Exporting captured data from proprietary software for further analysis can be frustrating or impossible. This situation leads to a waste of resources: Available equipment needs to be replaced for compatibility reasons, software drivers have to be purchased or developed, and data conversion is time consuming. Such technical obstacles also limit the complexity of integrated laboratory robotic platforms, and thereby impede the development of higher level autonomous experimentation systems. SiLA enables researchers to focus on their scientific questions by reducing equipment connectivity effort to a minimum. This is achieved by using proven, tested and maintained documentation and code.


Advancements seen on the home consumer electronics marked like USB or UPnP triggered the idea of applying a similar approach to the laboratory automation environment. Why was it possible to easily upload pictures from any digital camera on any computer but in the same time not even thinkable to replace a lab device (e.g.: a Shaker) of one brand with a Shaker of a different brand? Analyzing the situation led to the conclusion that the incompatibility was a result of missing interface definitions. The idea of a standardized interface based on the Common Command Set (CCS) concept was born.

Date Event
2007 / August Novartis and Hamilton decided to initiate a proof of concept (PoC) based on the Common Command Set concept.
2007 / October Successful proof of concept (PoC) at Hamilton′s premises in Bonaduz/CH
2008 Foundation of SiLA Consortium as a not-for-profit membership organization to develop the SiLA Device Control and Data Interface Standard and Common Command Set.
2008 / September Board meeting at Roche Basel. Roche presents in-house standardization approach RAC (Roche Automation Concept) and offers to share its experiences with SiLA.
2008 / October Poster at MipTec "Pilot implementation of Common Command Set"
2008 / October First SiLA Luncheon at MipTec conference. Representatives of major suppliers, pharma/biotech and system integrators confirmed that the time is right for SiLA Rapid Integration and that they welcome the initiative.
2008 / November SiLA Kick-Off meeting at Novartis Campus Biovalley Basel with representatives from 20 supplier and 8 pharma companies. SiLA will operate on the platform of Toolpoint for Life Science.
2009 / January SiLA Consortium starts activities. The first technical, marketing and management work groups have been initiated.
2009 / February SiLA Poster session at ALA
2009 / April SiLA′s scope and actual work-in-progress status were presented and discussed on the 15th annual SBS conference in Lille during a session organized by the Special Interest Group Automation Quality Control.
2009 / May Review Kick-Off Meeting
2009 / June SiLA presented the status of the consortium′s standardisation efforts and current projects at the annual Toolpoint CEO Event. SiLA General Interface Specification (Part I) submitted to the SiLA Membership for review. A team of 12 specialists from 8 different SiLA member companies joined their efforts to develop this specification.
2009 / July The first device class interface specifications for incubators and washers / dispensers were finalized.
2009 / September SiLA released the first version of the Device Control & Data Interface Specification. SiLA Companies deciding for implementation of the SiLA Interface Standard could now qualify as SiLA Implementation Partner by joining the SiLA Consortium and passing the Trainings for the SiLA Device Interface Standard.
2009 / October More than 70 visitors attended the SiLA Luncheon at MipTec 2009. SiLA president Peter Schleiffer and CTO Dieter Speidel presented an impressive report on deliverables developed by SiLA and a brief outlook into 2010 focus activities.
2010 / January SiLA exhibits on Lab Automation 2010 in Palm Springs. The newest standardisation projects and pilot implementations were presented by Dieter Speidel, CTO of SiLA.
2010 / September MipTec 2010 with SiLA Luncheon, user group Informatics. SiLA presented an overview about implementations of and integrations using the SiLA Device Control and Data Interface standard.
2011 / January LabAutomation 2011 in Palm Springs, several presentations by different SiLA representatives and implementation partners. Thomas Wedehase, Xavo, held a presentation on “Standards within Laboratory Environments”
2011 / March Exhibition at the 1st Swiss Symposium on Lab Automation in Rapperswil, and stimulating presentation by Dr. Niklaus Graber, Novartis.
2011 / September MipTec 2011 with 2nd SiLA Conference.
2012 / February SLAS 2012 in San Diego with a SiLA booth showing an integration of a PMS with pipetting robot and two readers.
2012 / March Swiss Symposium on Lab Automation in Rapperswil, and stimulating presentation by Oliver Peter from Actelion.


SiLA has formed a not-for-profit membership organisation. SiLA requires members to pay annual membership dues. Details on membership classes and related fees can be found here.

Organisation Structure

SiLA board of directors

SiLA is a not-for-profit membership corporation with global footprint. Membership is open for institutions, corporations and individuals active in the life science lab automation industry. The SiLA consortium provides professional training, support and certification services to suppliers and system integrators implementing SiLA compliant interfaces.


Scope of Standardization

Main scope

The SiLA foundation of standards addresses control and data interfaces between devices and process management, LIMS and Enterprise Systems.

SiLA Standards

SiLA has developed and released a detailed technical specification of the SiLA Device Control and Data Interface Specification (DCDIS) and a Common Command Library. The development of the SiLA Data Capture Standard, a standardized format for meta data and result data from microplate readers, has reached the final phase.

A paper describing these three standards in details is under preparation for publication in JALA.

Device Interface Standard

Three supported integration levels

The SiLA device interface standard covers all ISO/OSI levels of the device control interface from physical to application layer. The interface standard is based on web service/SOAP communication with the devices. Commands are generally executed in asynchronous manner with an immediate response and a delayed event after completion of the command processing or after an error. Error recovery procedures are also supported and the general behavior of the devices is managed by a state machine. The state machine enables also complex behaviors like parallel processing of commands and command queuing. By supporting three different integration levels, SiLA provides a unique, standardized interface between lab automation devices and process management systems so that also legacy devices can be integrated in SiLA compliant systems. SiLA compliance can be achieved by providing native, directly embedded SiLA device interfaces or by software only SiLA drivers and/or interface converters. The SiLA Device Control and Data Interface Standard eases and accelerates the integration and adaptation of systems through generic Device Class Interfaces providing Common Command Sets.

Common Command Dictionary

By grouping devices of the same functionality device classes can be created. SiLA Common Command Sets define commands for these device classes. SiLA defines the command names, the number of parameters and their names as well as the return data. Since commands and parameters are described in the WSDL documentation tag of the commands web service, a process management software (PMS) can automatically generate a list available commands for each device. So far SiLA has defined about 30 device classes and a command library with about 100 commands. Commands range from mandatory commands that are needed to make transitions in the state machine, over required commands for the specific device class, to optional commands for which not every device in the device class might provide the functionality. In addition guidelines for the implementation of supplier-specific device commands and parameters are provided. Some commands are applicable for almost every device class. For example, the commands SetParameter, GetParameter, ExecuteMethod are widely used. Also PrepareForOutput and PrepareForInput are common because they enable the transport mechanisms to transfer labware items from device to device. The mandatory commands include operations like Reset, Initialize, Abort and Pause. In addition also locking a device for exclusive use is provided.

External links

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