In the first part of this series “6 Trends in Robotics for the Life Sciences,” you learned about three of the six important trends that are current in the design and manufacture of automated robotic devices for the life sciences industry. Here are the remaining trends:
Modular units that perform multiple functions are increasingly in demand. The instruments are attractive to end users because labs can start out small and can subsequently add modules when the lab needs additional testing capacity. In general, a typical system comprises sample, reagent, washing, cleaning and waste modules. Life science OEMs often look to optimize and repurpose modules for other instruments because doing so lets OEMs make it through the FDA cycle a lot faster.
Here, suppliers to life science OEMs such as Parker might offer pre-designed subsystems that provide high precision and throughput for moving dispensing heads or micro plates in applications such as mass spectrometry, liquid handling for reagent dispensing, cellular assays plate reformatting or simple pipetting.
An example of more elaborate custom equipment comes from a modular robotic system developed for an instrument manufacturer. The system’s automated load and unload features let it perform multiple experiments. The equipment featured all of the 5-axis mechanics built onto a plate. Should the instrument go down, all the user must do is unbolt four bolts, disconnect the wires, pull the motion system out and put in a new one. This approach lets the unit be up and running again in about 20 minutes. An added benefit to the modular approach is that a system takes up less space.
This trend arose because clinical laboratories and hospitals cannot afford to have an instrument go down when critical samples are involved. Certain robotic systems that used to have 50 needles on the end of a dispensing unit and lots of tubing increasingly use special valve manifolds that eliminate the need for tubing and result in less chance of failure. The manifolds basically minimize the chance for leakage. The devices typically handle anywhere from 4 to 40 valves.
Another way to look at this trend is that manifolds help life science OEMs outsourcing their manufacturing and streamline their operations. For example, the manifolds eliminate work an employee at a test bench must perform to integrate 30 pieces of tubing. The employee might instead spend 1/10 of the labor integrating a manifold.
Image: Liquid Handler 1: Liquid handling in the life sciences can include processes ranging from the manipulation of test compounds, to the addition of biological reagents to form screening assays. To maintain process integrity and avoid sample contamination, typical liquid handlers require multi-axis robots capable of smooth motion and precise positioning.
Development environments have changed significantly over the last 5 to 10 years. For example, robotics has advanced so far that it’s possible to minimize or eliminate the need for human movement. The result is automated medical, pharma and diagnostic equipment that can provide high levels of consistency.
Image: A miniature drive/controller such as this operates on low voltage (24 to 80 VDC). The drive can run rotary and linear servo and stepper motors.
For more information, see our Parker website and our Diagnostic Market Information
Article contributed by Mike Szesterniak, Industry Market Manager – Life Sciences, Parker Hannifin
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