How To Automate Your Lab, Part 5: Vendors and Next Steps

This post is an excerpt from our 18-page "Introducing Automation To Your Lab" e-book. Click here to download the e-book.

Chapter 8: Choosing The Right Vendor

The robot vendor can either smooth your transition to automated liquid handling from manual pipetting, or make it a mess. A few good rules of thumb go a long way toward picking the best robot from a reliable vendor. These are all things that should be expected and provided during the decision-making process.

One crucial area involves the performance data of the robot. Anyone can publish data—but it needs to be reliable. In order to help you determine the reliability of a robot’s data, a vendor should readily provide

  • pipetting volume ranges and accuracy
  • pipetting precision (meaning coefficient of variation, or CV)
  • how both were measured

Scientists also need to consider a robot’s performance over time. To do that, a vendor should provide guidelines for maintaining quality assurance over the life of the platform.

Look for a vendor who does what it takes to keep a lab running with minimal downtime.

Ideally, a liquid handling robot should be easy to use—meaning, it should be relatively straightforward for you to setup and execute protocols on. It should be beginner friendly. If an automated liquid handler is truly easy to use, the vendor should be prepared to validate that. This could be done through tutorials, customer testimonials, demonstrations of applications loaded with a system, and so on.

That said, a liquid-handling robot platform also needs to work long and hard while staying within spec for pipetting precision and movement for as long as possible. For that, scientists need a warranty, and it’s reasonable to expect a one-year warranty on repair or replacement. On expensive robots—say, $50,000 or more—look for at least a two-year warranty. Also, keep in mind that some vendors charge for a warranty, but some include one as part of the purchase.

To handle performance problems, some companies require a support contract as part of a robot purchase, and the support contract alone can cost thousands of dollars a year. Conversely, Opentrons provides free online support as needed. In some bad-luck situations, no amount of support is enough to get a broken robot back online. For some vendors, the solution is a repair visit scheduled weeks away. Opentrons, on the other hand, express delivers the customer a new robot. Look for a vendor who does what it takes to keep a lab running with minimal downtime.

Conclusions: Next Steps On The Path To Automation

Now you know that robots can be a key factor in doing the day-in day-out repetitive lab work that is the foundation of advancing scientific understanding. You have identified ideal workflows to automate, determined the type of robot you need, and understood what you can expect from
different types of lab automation vendors. You should feel empowered to take your next step in purchasing an automated liquid handling robot.

As you explore automation in your lab, use this e-book and add a little of your own repetition—read this again or skim the key spots for reminders. There’s no need to memorize the details. Just come back to this ebook as needed to refresh your memory. If any of the old thinking creeps in and you start wondering if you could ever use a lab robot, take another look at “Figure 1: Busting the Top-5 Automation Myths.”

Figure-8

**Just remember: lab automation is within your reach, and it will supercharge your lab’s productivity. All you need to do is apply the steps in this guide and get started. Greater efficiency, productivity, and accuracy awaits.

What are you waiting for?**

This post is an excerpt from our 18-page "Introducing Automation To Your Lab" e-book. Click here to download the e-book.