It's great when things run quickly: 20 minutes per extraction process and a new plate every 2.5 minutes – the Dutch company Synchron Lab Automation, in cooperation with Festo, has developed a small automated factory for DNA extraction. As a result, customers in the seed industry can collect DNA from up to 40,000 samples per day.
"We have indeed built a very small factory," explains Niels Kruize, responsible for business development at Synchron Lab Automation. "Recently, one of our customers made a priceless statement. He said: 'This is so beautiful and at the same time so simple, I just don't understand why nobody invented it before.'"
The process, which runs on the machine, is used in the agricultural industry for plant breeding. DNA is extracted from shredded plant material. Components from Festo carry out important functions in all phases. The process begins with a microwell plate magazine which accommodates up to 400 plates – 200 for input and 200 for output. Bert Baas, key account manager at Festo explains: "This is a perfect example of a combination of industrial and laboratory automation". The machine's hardware is divided into functions, each of which is designed to be as simple and efficient as possible. The small factory is equipped with serial instead of parallel actuators. The plates are continuously moved and positioned in the pipetting, rinsing and washing stations.
Right from the start, Festo provided the Synchron developers with intensive support. Bert Baas reports: "Our automation experts supported us during the entire development of the extraction system. For example, they suggested using the new CPX-E unit to create real added value. They used the unit in this project before it was actually available on the market."
Identifying, transporting, washing and aspirating: components from Festo carry out important functions in all phases of the process.
An effective team (from left to right): Niels Kruize (Synchron), Bert Baas (Festo) and Derk Wilten (Synchron)
Niels Kruize is pleased that his confidence in the partnership has been confirmed. "It offers us enormous added value. The partnership has been truly cooperative from both sides. This project is a completely new undertaking for both companies – and communication technology is also new for us. We learn from each other and we're looking to the future to see what the next step will be." Bert Baas: "We discuss new technologies with Synchron and anticipate the possibilities they offer. That provides new impulses for Festo."
Synchron has been developing solutions for laboratory automation since 1985 and specializes in the automated handling of liquids, tubes and plates. In recent years, Synchron has added de-novo design and construction of dedicated automated platforms for the agribio industry to its portfolio. These include seed picking, germination, seed health tests and DNA cleaning systems. The Experimate™ software platform from Synchron offers a user-friendly interface and controls all systems and connected modules from Synchron – from the LIMS connection to the automated workplace.