Advanced and Easy-to-Use Automation

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 Advanced and Easy-to-Use Automation

A benchtop liquid handling system that brings robotics to any lab

A pipette tip moves smoothly to a tube, extracts a specific volume, and then moves precisely to an assay plate to deposit the sample. That’s just a small glance at the capabilities of the BRAND® Liquid Handling Station pipetting robot (BrandTech® Scientific, Essex, CT) (Figure 1), which is easy to use, even when the operator has no experience with robotics. Anyone in a lab who tests hundreds of samples a day, and could put that time to better use than manual pipetting, would benefit from this entry-level system.

Beyond ease of use, the system fits on a bench, taking up little room. The price is also on the small side, especially when compared with large liquid handling systems that can cost a hundred thousand dollars or more.

Despite the simplicity, small size, and low cost, the BRAND Liquid Handling Station pipetting robot delivers a platform that scientists can customize. That includes selecting the desired components—liquid ends, adapters, racks. To keep up with evolving needs, the platform can easily be upgraded with the addition of various adapters and racks. A user-friendly software package adds to the ease of customizing the device as needed.

Figure 1 – BRAND Liquid Handling Station.

Features of the LHS

The BRAND Liquid Handling Station works in a wide range of applications that include cherry-picking, PCR, serial dilutions, cell culture, microplate replication, and reformatting.

Scientists can use the system to handle a broad range of volumes: 1–1000 µL. To cover that range, users select from five liquid ends, created as interchangeable modules that are removed and inserted with a simple push of a button. These modules include: three single-channel liquid ends with volume ranges of 1–50, 10–200, and 40–1000 µL; and two eight-channel liquid ends with volume ranges of 1–50 and 20–300 µL. Volume testing according to ISO 8655 part 6 shows the high accuracy of each liquid end and low coefficients of variation. Plus, the multichannel liquid ends have removable tip cones that allow easy and affordable user servicing or replacement. Any of these liquid ends can be autoclaved.

Even as a benchtop device that is affordable, the system delivers flexible options, including eight working positions or locations for consumables. One position is dedicated for a waste box, and the other seven can be used for an endless number of combinations of consumables. Those positions can be filled with reagent reservoirs, PCR tubes, PCR strips, PCR plates, 96-well and 384-well microplates with varying surface treatment properties, microtubes up to 5 milliliters in volume, and tips. The end user determines which positions to use and how. To enhance efficiency, the software includes a simulation mode to optimize the placement of consumables. This 3-D animation runs a simulated version of a method to make sure it works as intended, and also reduces the chance of errors.

Moreover, unique needs can be accommodated in the working positions. When scientists use proprietary consumables, for example, custom adapters can be made to handle a wide variety of nonstandard labware.

Customer feedback

To really assess the value of a technology platform, scientists should look for customer comments. “The feedback of our customers using the Liquid Handling Station in applications like PCR, qPCR, activity test of enzymes, replication, and reformatting of plates, etcetera, is very positive,” says Antonio Romaguera, Ph.D., head of product management at BRAND. “For most scientists, the intuitive software of our robot makes the difference in comparison with other systems.”

Particular features of the BRAND Liquid Handling Station pipetting robot fit the needs of many scientists. As an example, Romaguera points out that “researchers are interested in precise results and not in wasting time with programming instruments.” Consequently, he says, “The Liquid Handling Station’s graphical user interface allows method setup without having programming skills, but follows all aspects that are considered during manual pipetting—for example, the speed of aspiration and discharge, the immersion depth of the tip into the liquid, etcetera.” Default settings lead to easy writing of programs, and allowing the adjustment of so many variables drives optimization for improved reproducibility within and between experimental runs.

In addition to helping scientists set up this platform, the software also keeps track of what is done. All of the specifics of pipetting processes are “reported in customized detail to fulfill all regulative needs,” Romaguera explains. “And on top of that, the user can send an e-mail notification for various liquid-handling events.” That frees the user for other work during the run of a method, and alerts the user if a run needs attention.

Eliminate pipetting errors

Even some seemingly simple processes can be ruined with errors. For example, many scientists perform serial dilutions, which is easy enough after making the calculations. Still, poor pipetting or pipetting into the wrong well can cause inconsistent results. Similarly, pipetting errors arise in plate reformatting and replication. The BRAND Liquid Handling Station pipetting robot removes those pipetting errors.

In more complex processes, the consistency of robotics matters even more. In cherry-picking, for instance, a scientist starts with many samples—say, a 96- or 384-well plate—and selects a subset of the samples for further experimentation, based on the results of upstream analysis. Then, the selected samples are moved to a new plate or tube, which requires accurately pipetting from the right well to the new location.

The BRAND Liquid Handling Station provides the features needed to precisely and repeatedly perform such processes. For instance, it records the input volumes and can receive imported data—sample names, sample types, sample volumes, and sample locations—from Excel. Those data are then used to set up the system to pipette specific volumes from one well and accurately move them to another. By getting the first step right, the successive processes work as intended.

Few things in a lab are better than an easy-to-use and inexpensive robotic liquid handling system that delivers the sophistication of customized method development. Even better, the BRAND Liquid Handling Station fits easily on a lab bench, conserving precious space.

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas. He can be reached at [email protected]

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