While sample preparation and processing are a daily reality for diagnostics, research and manufacturing labs, these steps are largely still carried out manually. There’s a variety of automated liquid handling equipment to choose from, and the right choice will have a number of benefits for your lab – more efficient processes, less space for human error and lowered risks when it comes to health and safety.
If you’re searching for the right solution, here are the most crucial questions you should be asking to ensure you’ll gain the best value and performance from your new automated liquid handling system.
1. What is the lab’s current workflow, and how does this need to change?
Lab automation really can transform productivity, accuracy and safety within your lab. Effective automation can decrease the number of manual steps in a lab by 50% and the number of manipulations by 75%. Automated liquid handling can also make the lab safer in various ways, from minimising biohazard exposure to lowering the chances of acquiring repetitive stress injuries from endless piping.
But in order for automated liquid handling to be truly effective, you first need to have a robust assay in place. Consider your workflow in terms of individual steps: including sample handling, your laboratory information management system, and how staff are being trained and assessed on an ongoing basis.
Automation won’t fix a process that isn’t already effective. The pre-analytical phase alone can account for 46-68.2% of errors in laboratory testing processes. By ensuring your workflow is clear, logical and scalable, the right automated liquid handling equipment will transform lab efficiency and capacity.
2. What level of walkaway automation are you looking for?
Walkaway automation means what it says on the box; it can run without a technician’s intervention or supervision. And this is exactly the point of automation – less time spent on managing those repetitive tasks and more time to spend on data analysis, research and collaboration.
When considering different automated liquid handling systems, ask which products will truly free up valuable time. Bio Molecular System’s Myra, for example, is the first liquid handling system with an integrated camera and algorithms to automate pipette calibration, including monitoring for user errors in deck layout such as missing tubes*. It monitors the aspirate and dispense process for errors through pressure-based liquid level sensing. Each Myra pipette head contains its own calibration data so there’s no need to re-calibrate on each exchange. Each of these factors gives you peace of mind that when you give the system a task, the job really is being performed correctly.
This, of course, goes hand in hand with precision. Without repeatability, countless hours and resources can ultimately be wasted. Applications such as qPCR and NGS rely on miniscule sample volumes in the microlitre (µL) range, so precision will be key to avoiding sample variability. Be sure to seek out an automated pipetting system that offers true precision, such as the Myra with < 10% CV at 1 µL.
3. How might your needs change as time goes on?
As with any investment in new lab equipment, you’ll want to know that your new automated liquid handling system continues to meet the needs of your lab as time goes on. Look for a reconfigurable solution that will provide flexibility in the case that your lab increases capacity, adds new applications or adjusts workflows. We’ve designed Myra with an interchangeable pipette head and a selection of plate positions to suit your needs: almost all of which can be used as a template, mix, reagent or reaction. You can run samples in parallel or sequentially to meet your workflow requirements. We also cater for most generic tube types but if yours isn’t available, you can define your own in Myra’s software.
Of course, quality is also essential to ensuring your automated liquid handling system is future-proof. Look for solid and well-made hardware and the product warranty to back it up, together with well-designed software. Which leads us to the next question…
4. How intuitive is the software?
Ideally, you’ll have plug and play functionality so you and other lab users won’t have to spend hours poring over instructions in the user manual. In 2020 and beyond, there simply is no excuse for clunky or outdated software with a new automated liquid handling system.
It’s also important to consider how this software will integrate with your existing programs and lab equipment. Myra uses the same interface as our Mic qPCR cycler, so sample names are transferred seamlessly – no room for human error. You can set both systems up, run and analyse all in one location, using editable tables to set up multiple assays and runs. The software continually verifies the consistency of setup details to help you maintain data quality.
The Myra’s integrated camera also allows you to automatically calibrate the system – simply click to the middle of the tube image and the software will do the work for you.
5. How much space will the new automated liquid handling system take up?
It may seem a simple question, but we all know lab and bench space can be at a premium. Choose a system with a smaller footprint (without compromising on performance or precision), and you’ll have more space and choices for your lab layout. That can have benefits both for productivity and lab ergonomics.
The Myra has a footprint of under two square feet, which is around half the size of others in its class. With a width of 350mm and a length of 460mm, that leaves plenty of space on the bench. Its sleek and compact design incorporates a compact HEPA filter and UV LED lights to keep its weight down to a minimal 10kg.
6. What will be required to service and maintain the new system?
This will undoubtedly be one of the top questions for most lab managers. How much will it cost to service and maintain the automated liquid handling equipment – and should any downtime be expected in the lab?
Believe it or not, a modern system like Myra doesn’t need servicing at all. You don’t need to have a technician on speed dial to install or configure your runs. You only need to calibrate the tubes and plates you’re using at the time, and there’s no need to stick your head inside as the camera does the positioning for you with great accuracy.
Be sure to choose a system that has the support of a reputable manufacturer who will be on hand to answer any questions, as well as providing thorough documentation for peace of mind.
So there you have it – the key questions to ask to ensure you’re making the right choice in automated liquid handling systems. We’d strongly recommend that you request a demo of any prospective system so you can ensure it will meet your needs and improve productivity, accuracy and safety in your lab.