Today’s laboratories are embracing automated liquid handling to optimize efficiency and carry out ever more complex research. Automated liquid handling can increase reliability, reduce costs and decrease the chance of human error. Given the current COVID-19 situation, its importance has never been more than what it is now.
Automation is a significant investment and so it’s important that the solution you choose is able to meet your current workflow needs and be flexible enough to meet your future needs too.
1. Is your current manual process robust?
Automating an assay that does not work well manually won’t fix it but if it already works well, automation will improve it. Before introducing automation, you need to fully understand your manual workflow.
When you break the process down into individual steps, it will help you to decide what elements you can improve by integrating automation. Deciding on “must-have” components will depend on your applications and goals.
2. Does any off-the-shelf solution meet your needs?
If a small, dedicated workstation meets your current needs, it could simplify your selection process. Some specialized workstations work well for specific applications with established protocols, such as sample preparation, cell culture or DNA extraction.
If you choose an off-the-shelf option, make sure you avoid inflexible solutions. You want a core component that you can integrate into a larger system down the line.
3. Is the system flexible and customizable?
Before making a decision, make sure your liquid handler has experience working with laboratories of all sizes and types and has the workflow optimization expertise to work with a variety of third-party manufacturers.
Aurora Biomed offers an automated liquid handling system that is flexible and customizable. Its VERSA series ranges from affordable entry-level liquid handlers to high-throughput fully automated ones.
4. How much space do you have and are you using it efficiently?
Most liquid handling systems are multi-user which means space needs to be used innovatively and there is more demand for flexibility. Some automation systems, such as a floor-standing liquid handler, allow you to access the storage units below the workstations.
5. Is the system easy to learn and operate?
Researchers today expect a great deal from automated systems but they often come with a steep learning curve they may not have time to deal with. It is important to find a system that’s easy to learn and yet doesn’t limit the flexibility of the overall system.
Make sure you see a software demonstration because poorly designed software can leave you dependent on a vendor or external specialist to troubleshoot problems and make even simple programming changes.
6. Does the system have built-in safety features?
Automation helps to reduce human error, but no system is immune to the unexpected and this is where humans need to pitch in. A system should be able to protect against data loss if the workflow is interrupted and have features that help to ensure operator safety.
Sample handling needs to be safe with no cross-contamination and the system should offer accuracy and precision for a range of compatible fluids.
7. How easy is it to maintain and service?
Whatever solution you are considering, you need to find out about servicing and maintenance. Downtime is costly and ease of access by technicians means less disruption to workflow. Support experts need to have the technical and workflow knowledge specific to your chosen solution.
8. Can it perform under changed circumstances?
If you want to purchase an automated sample processing system, for example, you will need to consider factors such as whether the need to process samples overnight may increase in the future. In such a case, features may need to be added to the system to allow for extended, unattended operation.