Laboratory instrumentation always seems to go out of service at the most inopportune times. Who hasn’t been faced with an equipment issue just before starting a new screen, or perhaps discovered an issue right after a critical addition? For robotic liquid handling systems, often integral to a process, “out-of-service” can be a common occurrence. But is the instrument really broken, or does it just need to be optimized?
During a recent applications visit (during which the Artel technical rep’s task was to optimize a group of liquid handlers for specific assays), a customer expressed frustration over results he was getting for a particular assay: CVs of over 15%. Was the error originating from his liquid handlers, or from the components of the assay itself? The technical representative suggested some adjustments to the pipetting parameters to more effectively control the liquid handler performance – eliminating the instrumentation as the source of the error. In this case, the optimization step reduced the CVs for the assay to an acceptable level, reduced the amount of additional troubleshooting required and allowed the customer to get back to his regular work.
The moral of this story: we have learned that “not working” does not necessarily mean broken. Instead, an out-of-service event sometimes simply means the instrument has not been optimized for this specific assay. Troubleshooting considerations should include the fit between the liquid type and volume and the pipetting technology, liquid handler settings, and labware quality.
Here are a few considerations to help steer your investigation and aid in optimizing your pipetting methods:
The most appropriate pipetting technology will be largely dependent on your process. While you may be tempted to switch to a new approach, you may consider the following characteristics:
What type of liquid and corresponding liquid class was used? Each liquid type dispensed will likely require different liquid handling settings which will make up a separate liquid class. The following best practices for liquid types describe how to achieve improved liquid handling performance.
Are you using the correct disposable tips? Tip quality can dramatically affect the performance of liquid handling equipment. While generic tip prices can be very attractive, their use could add cost by sacrificing quality:
Control of liquid handler variability can improve liquid delivery consistency and allow you to focus on other sources of error that may be affecting your results.
Tanya Knaide is a scientist with over 10 years of experience in leading new product development projects, product launch campaigns and uncovering customer needs to develop innovative new products and services to satisfy them. As Product Manager at Artel, Tanya has led cross-functional and inter-organizational teams that span across R&D, engineering and marketing and ensured that development and marketing projects deliver benefits to the customer in a timely manner.