Faster development of specimen handling

Faster development of reliable specimen handling

Collaborative Engineering in Laboratory Automation

Festo USA, in collaboration with PerkinElmer, developed a compact specimen handling solution for a global leader in manufacturing medical devices. Thanks to the involvement of the customer early on in the development process, the subsystem is easy to integrate into the customer’s platform – with Festo standard components, a PerkinElmer® JANUS G3 workstation, and a modified rotary gripper module. This approach resulted in minimal complexity with maximum productivity and process reliability.

Specimen Handling Subprocesses

The solution from Festo is part of a modular JANUS® G3 liquid handling workstation that is flexible and can be adapted to various customer requirements. The following process steps are taken into consideration in the application:

Separating the different sizes of vials from the rack → identifying specimens → vortexing → opening the cap → placing the opened specimen under a pipette → closing the cap after sampling → placing the vials back into the rack.

Special Features of the Specimen Vials

Two different types of vials with very different dimensions need to be handled: ThinPrep®: 42 mm dia. x 75 mm high and SurePath®: 33 mm dia. x 52 mm high.

The caps on the vials are flat, and are thus not ideal for automation. This places special demands on opening and closing with a high torque value of up to 2 Nm. Because of the special geometry of the bottom of the vial, even the slightest change in position can make it impossible to place the vials back into the rack.

Additional Requirements

The customer wanted a fully electric industrial robot that covers a working area including 2 trays with 48 sample vials each. The solution needed to perfectly match the appearance of the overall system as well, without the need to modify the existing platform. Furthermore, a retrofitting option was also required for systems that had already found their way into the market.

The Solution from Festo

Festo developed a total of five subsystems consisting of Festo standard components, a PerkinElmer® JANUS® G3 workstation, and a customized rotary gripper module.

JANUS® G3 Workstation with a customized rotary gripper module and subsystems from Festo.

JANUS® G3 Workstation with a customized rotary gripper module and subsystems from Festo.

Thanks to close cooperation with the customer, the complexity of the industrial robot was reduced to a minimum. The industrial robot (3-dimensional gantry) uses the existing guides in the JANUS® G3 Workstation so that compact axes can be selected. The rotary gripper module with modified standard gripper is part of the 3-dimensional gantry and is used for picking individual vials from a tray. After the vial has been positively identified by a barcode reader, it’s very rapidly rotated around its vertical axis to make sure the specimen in the vial is mixed with the suspension. The vial is then opened and held under a pipette. The vial is closed again and returned to the tray after sampling.

The vials’ caps are gripped continuously by the rotary gripper module during all process steps. This assures that each vial can be placed back into the tray with high levels of precision after opening and closing. Several beta versions of the entire workstation are currently being tested by selected end customers. At the same time, the overall system is being certified by the German Technical Control Board (TÜV) to make it available to a broad-based market in the future.

Advantage through Collaboration

Collaboration with Festo has paid off for the customer in several ways. The specimen handling solution from Festo increases the speed, the flexibility and the process reliability of the overall system, and it minimizes complexity and maximizes efficiency of component usage. The customer was also able to reduce development expenses and accelerate time to market. Collaborative engineering with Festo will be stepped up in the future because it provides the customer with elbow room to focus on strategic innovations and respond even more flexibly to ever changing market requirements.

For Research Use Only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.