Liquid handling is a vital activity in every lab. When done correctly, you have accurate samples and consistent data you can use.
Although liquid handlers are becoming more prevalent, switching to automated processes is a significant decision, and knowing everything you can about automating manual liquid handling processes can help you make the right choice for your unique needs.
What Is an Automated Liquid Handling System?
A liquid handler moves liquids in various amounts from one container to another. While this process might sound straightforward, it forms the backbone of laboratory testing worldwide. Liquid handling involves working with tiny amounts of liquid, as small as 1 microliter. Depending on the test you're conducting, you may also need to handle liquids of varying viscosity.
There are two principal methods of transferring liquids in a lab setting — manually or with an automated liquid handling system. The latter performs liquid transfers through computerized systems. Lab technologists can set the parameters and liquid amounts, and the machine takes care of the rest. A robotic arm dispenses a specific volume of liquid to the intended container. Some models have additional devices and perform tasks like heating and cooling to ensure the liquid handling process is as precise and efficient as possible
Some of the processes that benefit from automated handling systems include:
- Nucleic acid preparation
- Liquid biopsies
- PCR setup
- Bio array or spot printing workstations
- Next generation sequencing
- Liquid-liquid extraction
- Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay
- Solid phase extraction
The Benefits of Automating the Manual Liquid Handling Process
Manual liquid handling may have been the go-to process for generations, but automated liquid handling has significant benefits, including the following:
Reducing Manual Tasks and Repetitive Strain Injuries
Manual liquid handling is repetitive and time-consuming. Automatic liquid handlers free your staff to focus on where their expertise is most needed. They speed up the pipetting and dispensing process and eliminate human error in the accuracy of handling different volumes and viscosity.
Manual liquid handling stresses muscles and joints, so providing an alternative to this repetitive manual task can prevent injury.
Increasing Speed, Accuracy and Precision
Precision and accuracy are critical in medicine and science. Automated liquid handling eliminates human error and improves consistency. Manual pipetting can compromise the quality of your data, leading to expensive reruns. The increased accuracy and precision of automated liquid handling save unnecessary reagent use, and the machine's speed allows you to manage a create workload in a shorter period.
Eliminating Carry-Over and Contamination
Scientists and medical professionals must be able to trust that they have reliable results. Eliminating cross-contamination is essential to maintain your data quality. With manual liquid handling, avoiding contamination is time-consuming and stressful. Automated handling systems reduce the risk of cross-contamination. The machine dispenses the correct liquid volumes into the target plate below the source plate accurately, eliminating the chances of contamination and carry-over.
Lowering Costs and Limiting Wastage
Manual liquid handling requires the use of pipette tips. In comparison, automated liquid handling systems transfer liquids directly into the source plate, eliminating the need for pipette tips altogether, which is good for reducing plastic waste in the environment. You don't have to wait for stock and can save costs and maximize your budget.
Some automated liquid handling systems can identify errors before starting the process, allowing you to conserve your samples and reduce waste.
Automated liquid handling increases throughput and streamlines your workflow. You can process multiple samples simultaneously, and your speed is significantly faster than the manual alternative, saving time on entire protocols. The increased accuracy and precision also save you time on reruns due to human error.
Increasing Productivity and Satisfaction
No one likes to spend their days completing repetitive tasks. Automated liquid handling systems enable your staff to focus on their core competencies, as they're no longer spending hours completing manual processes. They can engage in their work and feel like they're making a meaningful contribution, which leads to a positive atmosphere and better results in the workplace.
How to Choose the Right Liquid Handling System
Every lab has different needs and priorities. Choosing a liquid handling system has to suit your requirements, so you know you're getting the most value. Consider the following points to narrow down your options and make the best possible choice:
Consider the workflows in which you'll use your system and where you'll put it in relation to sample and reagent preparation stations. Where will the samples go after the automated steps are complete? One of the principal reasons for purchasing a liquid handling system is to increase efficiency in your lab, so you need to choose one that fits your existing setup and requirements.
Displacement Pipetting Type
There are two standard liquid handling technologies — liquid and air displacement. One may be more suited to your requirements, depending on your application.
If you're dispensing over an extensive volume range, air displacement may be a good option. It works with disposable tips, which reduce the risk of cross-contamination and allow you to handle biohazardous and radioactive materials.
A liquid displacement is an excellent option if you require positive-pressure pipetting or need to pierce tubes in your process. It's also preferred for multi-dispensing volumes below 5 microliters and is compatible with fixed and disposable tips. Some systems have air and liquid dispensing capabilities, allowing you to meet all your requirements.
Volumes and Formats
Your system must handle your pipetting volumes and labware formats. Automating your workflow may allow you to reduce your volumes, saving on reagent costs and extracting more data per sample. Consider how many plates or wells you must run daily and how stringent your precision demands.
Lab Space and Size
Consider how much space you have in your lab for additional equipment and whether you can reorganize your existing equipment to work with the handling system and streamline your workflow. If you have space for a dedicated station, you could look at a heavier unit, but something portable might work better in your area.
Lab equipment is a significant investment. If you have a limited budget, you can look at used liquid handling systems to enjoy the benefits without unnecessarily spending. Providing you do your research and buy from a trustworthy and knowledgeable provider, you can get a system with an excellent remaining service life and the safety features you need.
Let New Life Scientific Help You Find Lab Equipment Today
Automating processes like liquid handling is a big step. It can improve your lab, boosting productivity and providing consistent, accurate results. New Life Scientific can help you make the right choice for your needs and budget. Our diverse selection of used lab equipment provides you with the options to find what you need on the right budget.
Our products undergo comprehensive testing, so you know you're getting a quality item suited to your application. Feel free to browse our selection of liquid handling systems, or contact us with any questions and start moving your science forward today.