Automation now eases manual processes in so many aspects of society, from smart home switches to manufacturing lines. It’s also helping those working in molecular biology, biotech and pharmaceuticals to find new efficiencies and cost savings. So why consider an upgrade from manual pipetting in your lab?
Manual vs automated pipetting: What’s the difference?
If you or your lab techs carry out any level of routine pipetting, then you’ve probably considered the possibility of automation. Here are the different pipetting methods to consider.
Manual pipetting is of course carried out by hand using a single channel or multichannel pipette, and is well suited to labs with a low level of throughput. Manual pipetting can be a time-consuming task, and Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) can be a common issue. Because each well or row of wells is manually filled and consistency may vary between lab technicians, reproducibility can also be an issue.
Fully automated pipetting
Fully automated solutions, also known as liquid handling robots, offer the ability to automate whole steps or the entire process of a sample preparation protocol. These systems eliminate many of the issues and variations of manual pipetting and are well suited to high-throughput applications. In order to provide these advantages, some systems can be rigidly fixed to a specific application – and expensive as a result. Many labs look to smaller and more flexible automation solutions like the Myra.
What are the advantages of using an automatic pipetting instrument?
An automated pipetting system can provide a number of appealing benefits within the lab environment.
Who couldn’t use more free time to analyse and interpret results? Automation allows labs to increase throughput and create ready-to-run workflows, which can be particularly useful for repetitive pipetting tasks. Lab technicians are freed from the monotony of labour-intensive setup, and instead can focus on more sophisticated processes.
Consider the overall advantage of saving even a few seconds and cents across thousands of samples per day. Even where bespoke fully automated systems run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the subsequent cost savings can also be significant through improved efficiencies and productivity. Automated systems with interchangeable pipette heads offer an affordable way to cut costs in a typical lab, through lowered labour requirements, minimised reagent usage and fewer failed assays due to operator error.
Improved lab safety
Lab users can often be working around hazardous or infectious samples for life science applications. Automated liquid handling systems minimise interaction with the system user, therefore minimising the risk of exposure and cross-contamination. Automated pipetting systems also eliminate many of the RSI risks that can so commonly occur with manual pipetting.
Improved accuracy and precision
What good is running samples if you can’t be certain of the results? Pipetting automation can help to improve assay reproducibility for greater precision, and reduce the variability that can occur between multiple technicians or assays. The Myra robotic pipette offers an automated pipetting precision of less than 10% CV at 1 µL, for example, while pressure-based liquid level sensing helps to register any errors in the aspirate and dispense process. As such, automation can help to minimise and mitigate most common error sources and improve confidence in findings.
Factors to consider when deciding between pipetting automation or manual pipetting
So should every lab be using an automated pipetting system? This will depend on a few important factors specific to your lab facilities and resources.
How many samples are you processing each hour? Manual pipetting may be suitable for 10 samples per hour, but if you have a higher throughput it may be time to consider an upgrade. Automated systems suit throughput of up to 100 samples per hour and beyond. The compact Myra, for example, supports small aperture tubes including 384 well plates.
Tip: If you’re using highly sensitive analytical instruments such as qPCR, you might choose to use an automated pipetting system regardless of throughput.
The number and variation of applications also help to determine which level of automation is right for your lab. For example, if your lab is dedicated to high volumes and one type of qPCR test, then bespoke full automation may suit. If you require a flexible pipetting solution to cover multiple applications, a versatile fully automated system will be ideal.
Obviously, not every lab has many thousands of dollars to splash out on a fully automated system customised to their applications. However, automated pipetting machines have become increasingly accessible even for small and medium-sized labs.
Tip: Consider the costs of any consumables such as pre-loaded tubes as you compare different pipetting machines. In many cases, the benefits will outweigh these incidental costs thanks to minimised maintenance, improved accuracy and greater productivity.
Lab personnel and expertise
The skill and staff levels within your lab will also determine whether an automated system will provide value. You won’t want your best scientists wasting their time on manual pipetting – yet those with less training can be more prone to making operator errors, jeopardising results. An automated system can be the solution. It’s important to also consider servicing and calibration, as some automated systems require specialised expertise for these steps.
Tip: Our Myra liquid handling system includes an integrated camera. This simplifies robot calibration and setup with the click of a button, without you needing to stick your head under the hood.
Try the Myra automated pipetting machine today
The best way to find out whether an automated pipetting machine will provide genuine benefits and save time in your lab is to put it to the test in your lab. Fill out a simple form, and a local Myra distributor can be in touch shortly to arrange a free two-week demo in your lab. It’s a simple, low-risk way to find an automated pipetting instrument that will suit the needs of your busy lab.