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Reviewing automated liquid handler options to find your lab’s solution. The guide part 2:

Our blog

10 June, 2019

In the first of these two blogs, we explored your reasons for exploring liquid handling automation, how to go about finding the right tool for the job and why you should include both initial and on-going investment costs into your decision-making mix. If you missed part 1, click here.

In part 2, we will explore some smaller, but extremely significant points that can catch you right out if overlooked! Based on the collective experience of our own sales, support and product management teams we’ve also come up with our definitive check list of considerations which we will share at the end to help guide you to your perfect solution.

Which microplate formats do you require compatibility with?

It is important to take into account where you fit within your organisation’s workflow, as upstream or downstream workflow requirements can end up influencing your decision. Failure to think ahead can lead to embarrassing compatibility issues down the line! Are you in genomics where a move from PCR tube strips into plates is required, or protein crystallography wanting to move into 96-well format? Do you have a preferred microplate that all your assays are validated in so it would be a pain to change? Are you in assay development looking to develop assays directly in 1,536 well microplate format for screening to avoid re-validation steps?

Whatever your aspirations (excuse the pun), be sure to check for compatibility with the vessels that your samples are stored in, the automation itself and subsequently what you will be using to detect/analyse/transfer your experiments to. Don’t make any assumptions!

How much dead volume is acceptable?

When working with the lovely hand pipette dead volumes are close to zero, so they won’t necessarily figure on your radar and can easily be overlooked. When considering automation, dead volumes are one of those things that can sneak up and bite you, especially if you have particularly costly reagents! It is not uncommon for several mL to be lost when priming or within tubing, which can erode the reagent cost saving benefits of miniaturization and prohibiting the use of automation.

How involved do you want to be in the day to day?

If the whole purpose of automation is to make your life easier then there’s another couple of important points to consider. How happy are you to have part of your day taken up by daily maintenance and regular QC calibration checks? These are required to ensure the accuracy and precision of all liquid handlers, especially those containing valves. Cut corners and you risk your experiments delivering misleading results or being wasted.

Super-user versus any user?

Where the utmost in versatility is required there are solutions that can do everything except make a cup of tea, however, versatility often goes hand in hand with complexity. Make sure you are comfortable with the software and closely align its level of complexity with your expectations. Ask yourself some questions “Do I expect to program via a graphical user interface?” or “Would I be happy with a system that requires scripting skills?” “Do I have the luxury of a dedicated super-user?” and “Is there a back-up plan should the expertise leave the lab?” If you don’t have dedicated resource, don’t be afraid of opting for two more simple solutions designed for use in a multi-user to achieve the versatility you require. The alternative is to make some compromises based on priorities!

Summary

So, in summary, there’s a lot to consider but it needn’t be an arduous task. To help you define your shortlist of possible solutions here’s the promised checklist that you can play around with and fill in based on your requirements. Put your highest priorities on the top and score compatibility matches higher than those further down the list. Insert, or delete lines where necessary. Compare the results from multiple options, your top 3 make the short list!

Hopefully you find this post useful. If you are not quite ready to make the leap, then keep checking in with our blogs as we will delve into some of these points in more detail over the coming weeks.

Have fun, good luck and don’t forget, we are here to help too so feel free to drop us a line.

 Automation checklist Required Compatible?
Required liquid types (list)
Cell dispense capability (Y/N)
Dynamic volume range (vol)
Throughput: plates/week (#)
Plate stacker/workcell integration required (Y/N)
Acceptable dead volume (vol)
Required assay plates (list)
Precision (dispense vol)
Accuracy (dispense vol)
Positional accuracy (Y/N)
Individual tip, row, column, plate dispensing required
Zero cross-contamination potential (Y/N)
Serial, or direct dilution (Y/N)
Independent channel control (Y/N)
Scheduling software (Y/N)
Superuser (Y/N)
Multi-user environment (Y/N)
Sterility required (Y/N)
Weekly time required for maintenance and QC testing (mins)
CAPEX investment (local currency)
consumable investment/year (local currency)
Service contract cost/year (local currency)
Physical unit size