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Image of pipettors for article on automated liquid handling in the lab.
Published On: December 21st, 2021

Lab technicians measure, dispense, and mix liquids every day. Liquid handling is a key element of scientific research in various industries, from microbiology to food manufacturing to cosmetics. Common microplate sizes range from single -384 wells and beyone, which could take minutes to fill if done by hand. As a result, many companies have integrated an automated liquid handling workstation into their labs to reduce human error, increase throughput, and decrease minimum sample volumes. Let’s explore the applications and key characteristics of liquid-handling robots.

What is an Automated Liquid Handling Workstation?

An automated liquid handling workstation uses a motorized system to control liquid dispensing, aspiration, and mixing. These machines operate with higher precision and accuracy than manual pipetting. In addition, modern liquid handling workstations typically have a software interface that allows laboratory technicians to develop methods that control the sequence of events.

Many people believe that liquid handling workstations are too large or expensive for use in a smaller lab. However, with a wide range of sizes and price points, workstations are suitable for most labs. Benchtop liquid handling workstations have gained popularity due to their compact size.

When to Use Manual Pipetting vs. Automated Liquid Handling

Manual pipetting is suitable for low-throughput experiments with low sample volume. Automated liquid handling is suitable for high-throughput experiments where a high degree of reproducibility is required. The risk of cross-contamination is lower with automated pipetting vs. manual. For preliminary tests requiring fewer samples, it might make sense to choose manual pipetting. For later stages of an experiment leading to final results, automated pipetting is an optimal choice.

What are the Most Common Uses of Automated Liquid Handling?

Automated liquid handling workstations are most commonly used to perform serial dilution, plate replication, sample normalization, pooling, and assay and PCR setup. Automated liquid handling makes it increasingly feasible to develop pharmaceutical products, test biosamples for drugs, and sequence genomes. As -omics research grows, automated extraction systems help scientists extract DNA, RNA, and proteins.

Characteristics of Automated Liquid Handling Workstations

Are you wondering what to look for in a liquid handling robot? Understanding the types of workstations available can help. Automated liquid handling workstations come in many varieties. You can choose a workstation based on the dispenser mechanism, automation features, size, and flow rate.

Automated Liquid Handling Pump Types

There are two primary types of dispensers: peristaltic pumps and microprocessor-controlled syringes. Peristaltic pumps require very little priming, reducing cleaning validation costs. Microprocessor-controlled syringes require some priming but offer high throughput and accuracy. Hybrid systems incorporate both pump types.

Workstation Size and Volume

The size of automated liquid handling workstations ranges from small benchtop modules to stand-alone multi-instrument systems. Larger workstations can typically accommodate larger volumes or faster processing rates, allowing for higher throughput. Smaller workstations are lower in cost and easier to fit into an existing lab setup.

Additional Automation Features

Some automated liquid handling workstations enable automated plate handling, which increases the ability to perform experiments without a lab technician. Other workstations include a washing feature, which is necessary for bead-based assays.

Choosing an Automated Liquid Handling Workstation

Now that you have considered pump types, size, and automation features, you are more equipped to decide which liquid handling solutions meet your needs. If you need help determining the automated liquid handling workstation that best meets your lab’s needs, contact Hudson Robotics.