How Affordable and Reliable Laboratory Automation Works

Problem: Many laboratories need to upscale their workflows but find that laboratory automation is a costly and difficult option. Robotic arms are reliable solutions but can be large, cumbersome, and expensive (>$25K). This is frequently prohibitive for single devices—especially if the automation solution costs more than the instrument itself. On the other hand, although small plate stackers are more cost effective, they have questionable reliability, especially when handling lidded plates—a real issue for sterile cell-based assays. In addition, both of these types of automation solutions require expertise for setup and configuration, further complicating installation and adding to the costs involved.

Solution: A new, small-footprint automated plate handler design from Peak Analysis and Automation (PAA)—the S-LAB™—is a solution that enables researchers to easily and cost-effectively automate laboratory instruments that accept SLAS/ANSI microplates. This system is based around a simple plate handler yet has the reliability of a robotic arm—even when handling lidded plates—and is easy to set up and configure. It is available at a much lower price point than other automation solutions as it is specifically designed for small integrations with just one instrument.

S-LAB plate handler

S-LAB plate handler

This automated plate handler has been specifically designed as a unique entry-level automation solution with simple installation and use. Its compact design ensures that it easily fits standard lab benches and safety cabinets. An on-board computer enables standalone operation—loading microplates onto a wide variety of benchtop instruments from any manufacturer. Control is simple, via an intuitive easy-to-use software interface on either a tablet, laptop, or smartphone.

The plate handler system works by employing stall detection and, in the soon-to-be-released version, features an integrated camera. It is able to smoothly move plates and detect any obstructions in its path, with full error recovery in such scenarios. The embedded camera enables the system to “see” the layout configuration, simplifying setup and reducing the chance of making a mistake.

The camera is also used to allow fine-tuning of locations, to ensure positions are accurately set. This, in combination with removable “locators” that present microplate stacks, exchange nests, and the instrument in fixed locations, eliminates the need to manually teach positions or have a trained engineer set up the system.

Integrated control software within the plate handler can interact with SiLA compatible devices and the Thermo Fisher Scientific Multidrop, negating the need for a separate PC, allowing an easier setup, and further reducing costs. In addition, the software is easy to use with a simple web-hosted touchscreen user interface, enabling scientists to run the system with the connected instrument without any training. Other devices can be integrated with the S-LAB by using PAA’s Overlord scheduling software.

Basic removable microplate stacks eliminate the need for complex mechanisms at the base of the stack that are prone to jamming, and allows plates to be loaded away from the system. Exchange nests allow rapid plate exchange (<21s) for faster throughput while maintaining full plate tracking.

The S-LAB has a generous capacity of 125 unlidded or 100 lidded microplates with six “last-in first-out” microplate stacks. Uniquely, the system also features a rotational gripper that can present plates in a landscape or portrait orientation—enabling the instrument and the plate handler to physically integrate to the smallest footprint possible on lab benches and in fume hoods while maintaining easy access to any instrument control panels.

Thanks to this elegant and effective design, PAA’s automated plate handler is opening up more laboratory automation by breaking down cost barriers and reliability concerns, with the added benefit of easily incorporating into existing workflows and laboratory setups.

Please contact us to find out how we can help you.