People seldom give much thought to liquids. Or rather they seldom stop to think about the distinct qualities liquids have which differentiate them from other forms of matter. But all of that changes rather quickly when those liquids are part of a medical setting. Liquids in medical settings tend to have some powerful properties. The end result is that they’re also often difficult to directly handle. This is why automated liquid handling is so important. But at the same time, one needs to use some care and consideration when using these systems.
One should begin by thoroughly understanding the typical volume one will work with. There’s several reasons why this is important. One of the most readily apparent is that volume necessitates the type of containers used. It can also determine which automated system to use.
However, volume also impacts which system will be the optimal choice for particular environments. An environment which only works with solutions in a range from one to five ML can standardize on a particular workflow fairly easily. However, consider the case of jobs which require moving between 1 ML and 20 ML batches. This can impact why someone would want to go with higher tech models such as a Hamilton Nimbus. The Hamilton Nimbus would make it easier for people to work with such a highly variable system.
Next, one should also consider end needs. Again, it’s important to keep a steady workflow in mind. People often assume that their needs will remain unchanging. But one will usually do himself a favor by considering needs five or six years into the future. And this is particularly true when it comes to automated liquid handling systems.
It’s quite common for people to upgrade these systems. And it generally means turning them into a full workstation. These are more modular setups which use the liquid handling as one part of a greater whole. However, some people also try to go with a one size fits all solution right from the start.
It’s usually best to plan for a modular upgrade cycle in the future. One doesn’t have to fully anticipate demands. And in many ways it’s often not even possible to guess what one’s needs will be in the distant future. But one can at least consider whether upgrades will be called for at all. If so, one should try to design around a modular upgrade cycle. This will make the upgrades go far more smoothly in the future.
One should also consider the nature of liquids one will deal with. This will impact both the choice of system and the containers used with it. The most pressing concern is usually overall viscosity of the liquid. Consider just how different water is from oil. It’s not just a matter of solubility of other elements within the liquid. One must also contend with difficulties in fully transferring those liquids between separate containers. This will also influence pipette choice.
Additionally, the pipettes themselves need to be considered as well. One should consider what would happen to a sample if tip ejection is compromised. And with many types of pipette it’s true that aggressive loading makes for difficult ejection. Choice of pipette can influence the severity of this reaction. Some types will even eliminate the concern. However, as with most parts of an automated system one needs to plan for it.
Planning is the final consideration which needs to go into any automated liquid handling design. The modular nature of these systems does mean that one can often modify plans on the fly. But one should try to minimize variables in overall design just as one would during an experimental procedure.