Does your laboratory specialize in high-activity sectors, such as biotechnology, medicine, chemistry, the life and earth sciences, or pharmaceuticals? Are you considering switching out more of the manual processes of pipetting, and investing in automatic liquid handling technologies to keep your operations fast and efficient?

This article explores the rise of automatic liquid handling technologies, as well as how to equip your lab with the right tools.

From manual to automated: How lab processes evolved

For people involved in any of the fields of hard sciences and its applications, the laboratory is their livelihood. Housed in the lab are some of their most vital specimens: chemical compounds, biological samples, and the like. The first way that our scientists and laboratory workers learned how to handle these was through manual pipetting.

However, nowadays, many of these professionals have shifted from using manual pipettes to automated liquid handling. The latter does serve as ideal in the most prolific laboratories, where compound screening methods for several plates and tubes all need to be done at the same time. Automated liquid handling serves the purpose of overseeing the pipetting process—drawing liquid upwards, moving it to a new location, and dispensing it into a new container—with mechanical precision and consistency.

From the automation, a number of laboratory processes are made possible on a wider scale: in the field of pharmaceuticals, the discovery and testing of new drugs; in the life sciences and diagnostics, the preparation of genomic samples and immunoassays, and the aliquoting of blood specimens.

The need to enhance throughput and accuracy

Efficient pipetting via automated liquid handling syncs both software and hardware components. The system is pre-programmed with software that allows for the pipettes to move automatically, swiftly, and accurately across the three axes of motion, and the hardware accessories, such as the actuators and the linear stages for liquid handing machines, to transfer liquids at a pace that a big lab needs.

All throughout the research and testing stages, automated processes will ensure the reliable handling of the samples, increasing the laboratory’s efficiency in production by achieving better throughput and accuracy while minimizing critical production errors. For the big industries, accuracy in the handling of the specimens, as well as their screening and testing, is vital to the reputation and survival of laboratories. It becomes all the more important to keep your lab’s gear in tip-top shape and capable of producing and sustaining the results.

Choosing your machine

That said, what is left is for you to make the decision to adopt automation in your laboratory, as well as to choose the right equipment to deploy. Here, then, are basic things to consider when choosing your lab’s new automatic liquid handling machines:

  • Capacity, volume, and throughput per lab process. Keep updated with your staff on what expectations your lab needs to meet every day, for any given protocol. This means, in the capacity of samples that it handles; the volumes of liquid dispensed in each run of the protocol; and the throughput, or the number of samples that must be processed in a given amount of time. These answer the questions of: how much work actually needs to be done in the lab, and what size and capability of machine are ideal for the operation’s budget?
  • The “walk-away” factor. Automation is employed for the sake of bridging capabilities in the work with how much work is necessary. Part of this is judging how much human intervention is truly needed. In the context of lab work, it pays off to free up more human hands from the repetitive process of manual pipetting, and focus more human time and energy on data evaluation. This is regarded as the “walk-away” factor, or how trustworthy the system is for the handler to “walk away” and come back later for the results.
  • How your solutions provider measures up. Lastly, your lab will form a relationship with the business that will oversee the automation. Compare work that your prospective partner has done with other laboratories, work out your needs with them, and coordinate for them to run a system demo so that you can determine how well the solutions they offer address the needs of your lab.

That said, best of luck to your organization, to your laboratories, and to the hardworking staff that handles its daily operations. Here’s to harnessing the technologies for greater efficiency, as well as greater innovation.