Faster development of reliable sample handling

Collaborative engineering in laboratory automation

Festo USA has collaborated with PerkinElmer to develop a compact sample handling solution for a global leader in manufacturing medical devices. Thanks to the customer's involvement in the development process at an early stage, the subsystem is easy to integrate into the customer's platform – with standard components from Festo, a PerkinElmer® JANUS G3 workstation and a modified rotary gripper module. This approach resulted in minimal complexity with maximum productivity and process reliability.

Sample handling sub-processes

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 considered in the application: Separating the different sizes of vials from the rack → Identifying the samples → Vortexing → Opening the cap → Placing the opened sample under a pipette → Closing the cap after sampling → Placing the vials back in the rack.

Special features of the sample vials

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

The caps of the vials are flat and therefore 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 with 2 trays of 48 sample vials each. The solution also had to perfectly match the overall system visually without requiring modifications to the existing platform. In addition, an option to retrofit systems already on the market was also a requirement.

The solution from Festo

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

By cooperating closely 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 could be used. The rotary gripper module with modified standard gripper is part of the 3-dimensional gantry and is used to pick up individual vials from a tray. After the vial has been clearly identified by a barcode reader, it is rotated very quickly around its vertical axis to ensure that the sample in the via; is mixed with the suspension. The vial is then opened and held under a pipette. After sampling, the vial is closed again and returned to the tray.

The caps of the vials are continuously gripped by the rotary gripper module during all process steps. This ensures that each vial can be placed back into the tray with a high level of precision after opening and closing.

Several beta versions of the entire workstation are currently being tested by selected end users. At the same time, the entire system is being certified by the German Technical Control Board (TÜV) in order to make it available to a broad market in the future.

A head start through collaboration

The collaboration with Festo has paid off for the customer in several respects. The sample handling solution from Festo increases the speed, flexibility and process reliability of the overall system, minimises complexity and maximises the efficient use of the components. In addition, the customer was able to reduce development costs and accelerate time to market. Collaborative engineering with Festo will be stepped up in the future, as it gives the customer the freedom to focus on strategic innovations and respond even more flexibly to constantly changing market requirements.

For research purposes only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.