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July 15, 2024 | Biomolecular

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What is a Pipetting System?

We’ve all probably seen how automation eases manual processes in so many aspects of society, from smart home switches to manufacturing lines, and it comes as no surprise that  there has also been a real shift to automation in medical laboratory science. At the moment, automation is helping those working in molecular biology, biotech, and pharmaceuticals to find new efficiencies and cost savings. With that in mind, here are additional reasons why you should consider an upgrade from manual pipetting to an automatic pipette or pipetting robot in your lab.

Manual Pipette vs Automatic Pipette – What’s the difference?

If you or your lab techs carry out any level of routine pipetting, then you’ve probably already considered the possibility of biotechnological equipment automation. Here are the different pipetting methods to consider:

Manual pipetting

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. This can also come with the added pressure of needing to remember where you are up to in the pipetting process, especially if you were to get interrupted while you were working.

Fully automatic pipette

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.

Semi-automatic pipette

Semi-automatic pipetting involves using a device that combines manual operation with electronic control to enhance precision and speed in liquid handling tasks. While it is significantly faster than manual pipetting and reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries, it still has some bottlenecks. These include the need for human intervention, potential for operator error, and limitations in handling complex or high-volume tasks. Although semi-automatic pipettes improve efficiency compared to manual methods, fully automated systems like Myra offer superior speed, accuracy, and consistency, effectively eliminating these bottlenecks and streamlining laboratory workflows.

What are the advantages of automatic pipetting instruments?

An automatic pipette system can provide a number of appealing benefits within the lab environment.

Time savings

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.

Tip: Further time can be saved by integrating liquid handling with qPCR cycling, such as the seamless data transition between Myra and Mic.

Cost savings

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 automatic pipette dispenser 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 reduce laboratory errors. It does this by improving assay reproducibility for greater precision, and reducing 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.

How Does an Automatic Pipette System Work?

Automated pipetting involves using advanced robotic systems to transfer precise volumes of liquid from a source to a destination. Robotic systems are programmed to handle various pipetting tasks with high precision and speed, reducing human error and increasing throughput. This automation enables labs to focus on more complex analytical tasks, leading to more accurate and reproducible results in scientific research and diagnostics.

Components

Pipette Tip

Essential for accurate liquid handling in laboratory applications, pipette tips ensure precision and prevent cross-contamination between samples. Conductive tips can be used to level sense the liquid, however, these are expensive and not that reliable when they encounter bubbles and have a habit of false triggering. Myra uses standard tips which are lower in price, and they use pressure to sense the liquid, which is more accurate and can deal better with bubbles and will not false trigger. Myra also uses filtered tips which reduce the chances of contamination in the laboratory.

Pipetting Head

A pipette will move liquid by pulling the liquid in, and then pushing it back out of the pipette. These actions are controlled by a piston. Air is displaced by the piston and the volume of air displaced is equivalent to the volume of liquid aspirated. Accuracy is dependent on how well the displacement of air is controlled by the piston. Myra can control this displacement very well, resulting in an accuracy of less than 1% for volumes greater than or equal to 2uL and < 10% for 1 uL. Since air is being used, the Myra can monitor the pressure to both aid in the detection of liquid, and to also determine the quality of the aspiration and dispense. The tech behind this is important for accuracy and precision, and all of these Myra features greatly improve the performance of the pipetting process in a laboratory setting.

Deck

The deck of an automatic pipette system is the platform where labware, such as microplates, tubes, and reservoirs, are placed. It provides an organised workspace for conducting liquid handling tasks. The deck’s design and layout facilitate efficient workflow and integration with the pipetting head, ensuring accurate and streamlined sample processing.

Control Software

Control software manages the operation of the automatic pipette system, allowing users to program and execute liquid handling tasks. It provides an interface for setting parameters such as volume, speed, and sequence of operations. The software ensures precision and repeatability, enabling complex protocols to be automated and reducing the risk of human error in the lab.

Factors to consider when deciding between a manual pipette vs automatic pipette

Should every lab be using an automated pipetting system? This will depend on a few important factors specific to your lab facilities and resources.

Required throughput

How many samples are you processing each hour? Manual pipetting may be suitable for 10 samples per hour, however, even this is quite laborious and time consuming. Especially for complex protocols such as those for Next Generation Sequencing Library preparation. So, if you have a higher throughput it is definitely 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 take advantage of automatic pipetting regardless of throughput.

Intended applications

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.

Lab budget

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. The Myra is also more cost effective at $30k compared to other machines which can cost over $60k.

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 automatic pipette dispenser could be the ultimate 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 automatic pipette 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 experience the advantage of an automatic pipetting instrument and how it will suit the needs of your busy lab.