System solutions in laboratory automation

Sample handling and transport in laboratory automation

It is useful to distinguish between laboratory automation and laboratory robotics. While the former refers to software and hardware technologies and technical adaptations that control instruments without human intervention, the latter refers specifically to the physical handling of samples and their containers.

A standard format for preparing, handling and storing different sample types is the microplate. Microplates have multiple wells in a plate of a standard size and footprint. Many robotic systems are therefore specifically designed to handle microwell plates and the samples they contain.

Sample handling and movement is mostly based on batch processes. A method is needed to move individual samples throughout the entire process in order to facilitate the transfer of samples from module to module while allowing random access to the modules at the same time.

Random access is the ability of a process to perform any requested test in any order. Various manufacturers offer clinical laboratory solutions for efficiently and seamlessly routing and handling samples in pre-analytical, analytical and post-analytical processes.

Collecting, transporting and processing clinical samples is part of the pre-analytical process and is critical to obtaining reliable diagnostic results. Customised solutions for automated sample processing are available and help reduce errors and increase efficiency. The samples can be immediately forwarded to the various modules for the individual process steps, and they can be tracked throughout the entire process.

Equipped with the required knowledge of the basic process and functional solution, Festo is in a good position to provide intelligent subsystems (modules) for manipulating and preparing samples (identification via bar code, decapping and capping sample tubes, integrating pipetting technologies) so that these samples can be used in diagnostic and analytical processes.

To optimise the entire process – including transporting samples and handling microplates, containers, racks and consumables – a suitable combination of Cartesian and robotic handling technology can provide the required efficiency in the final functional solution.

About the author

Wolfgang Trautwein
Business Development MedLab

January 2018