System solutions in lab automation

Sample handling and transport in lab automation processes 

System Solutions in lab automation

It is useful to distinguish between laboratory automation – which denotes the software and hardware technologies and engineering adaptations that control instruments without human intervention – and laboratory robotics, which refers more specifically to the physical manipulation of samples and their containers.

Planar surface gantry transports the vials
Planar surface gantry transports the vials

A standard format for preparing, manipulating and storing collections of different sample types is the microplate. Microplates contain multiple wells in a plate having a standard size and footprint shape. As a result, many robotic systems are specifically designed for manipulating microplates and the samples they contain.

In most cases, the manipulation and movement of samples is based on batch processes. To facilitate the transfer of samples from module to module while allowing random access to the modules, a method for moving single samples throughout the process is required.

Random access refers to the capability of a process to allow any requested test to be performed in an arbitrary sequence. Clinical lab solutions for efficient and seamless sample routing and handling in pre-analytical, analytical and post-analytical processes are provided by different manufacturers.

Transport of the microplate
Transport of the microplate

The collection, transport and processing of clinical samples are pre-analytical steps that are critical to obtaining reliable diagnostic results. Tailored solutions for automated sample handling are available and help to reduce errors while improving efficiency. Samples can be instantly routed to the different modules for the individual process steps, all while being tracked throughout the entire process.

With our knowledge of the underlying process and functional solution, Festo can provide intelligent subsystems (modules) for the manipulation and preparation of samples (identification via barcode, decapping and capping of sample tubes, integration of pipetting technologies) so that these samples can be used in diagnostic and analytical processes.

Robot with gripper fingers transfers the microplate from module to module
Robot with gripper fingers transfers the microplate from module to module

For optimization of the entire process – including transport of samples and manipulation of microplates, containers, racks and consumables – an appropriate combination of both, cartesian and robot handling technology, may provide the intended efficiency in the final functional solution.

About the author

Festo Wolfgang Trautwein

Wolfgang Trautwein
Business Development LifeTech
Festo AG & Co. KG