There is no doubt that the Life Sciences industry is currently a dynamic environment. For instance, changing market conditions have tasked life science OEMs with building their products using faster, smaller more modular technologies. Also, major advancements such as next-generation DNA sequencing and molecular imaging are expected to spur growth in areas such as immunochemistry and genetic testing. Six main trends in the design and manufacture of automated robotic devices have arisen from these changes.
Trend One: Smaller Footprints
As laboratories reduce their size to boost efficiency, their floor and bench top space has become more valuable and they need smaller instruments that will fit in these smaller spaces. This need has had a ripple effect in industry, forcing companies that supply OEM life science manufacturers to provide increasingly smaller components. Parker, for instance, offers robotic components such as miniature stages and drives and mini servo motors. These electromechanical components often work hand-in-hand with fluidics, so the company offers micro valves and pumps as well.
Changes are also ongoing with suppliers like Parker that build custom engineered systems such as those for digital pathology which, for instance, require a velocity following error of less than 0.5 micron. A smaller instrument can be had by placing fluidics components that support robotics as close to the samples as possible. In the past, pumps and valves would have been mounted in the rear or on the bottom of the instrument and then plumbed up to a dispensing device--typically a probe that automated the delivery of fluid into a well plate. Today, fluidic components are small enough to sit directly on top of the probe.
Image: Microarray spotting demands high speed and precise positioning to achieve array density and production throughput requirements.
Trend Two: Higher Throughputs
Analytical equipment has higher throughputs than had previous devices. This advancement arose from basic economics. Faster moving samples mean lower cost per sample. One way OEMs are increasing throughput is with motion systems comprising miniaturized stages, instance actuators and highly dynamic linear motors that can accelerate, decelerate and settle very quickly so that the next operation in the robotic system can occur more quickly. Parker designs stage around specific linear motion drive trains to meet an OEM's desired footprint and application specs. The systems also feature a shorter sample move distance, which helps boost throughput.
In the world of diagnostics, reducing “carryover” in an automated on-line analyzer also helps to increase throughput. Carryover occurs in these systems when a portion of a sample left in the valve contaminates the next liquid running through it. The more chance there is for contamination, the more a wash cycle is necessary, which slows throughput. Newer valve designs have cut down on carryover, thereby increasing system speed. For instance, a shear valve that closes off the fluid path between the samples or the reagents helps ensure limited carryover.
Image: Fluid Handling system: Parker's components and systems are utilized by many manufacturers as the motion elements in liquid handling robots. The modularity and performance attributes of Parker's various series of products allows users mix and match components to balance, speed, precision and cost requirements.
Trend Three: Small Sample Sizes
Analytical devices now need smaller sample and reagent volumes. Smaller volumes are possible thanks to robotic components that make automated analyzers more precise. For example, miniature positioners can automate the exact placement of samples in well plates, small rectangles only about four inches high that contain around 1,000 test tubes. In addition, automated analyzers can use valves that handle higher pressures, thereby requiring smaller sample and reagent volumes. This helps cut a lab’s costs.
The typical pressure here is 30 psi, but this should soon jump to 50 to 80 psi as piezo devices increasingly replace solenoid coils in actuators. Piezo devices provide significantly more force than do solenoids, allowing higher pressure flows and higher throughput.
Please see “Trending in Robotics for the Life Sciences“ to read about the remaining trends.
For more information, see markets with our Precision Fluidics Division
Article contributed by Mike Szesterniak Industry Market Manager – Life Sciences, Parker Hannifin
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