Transforming Life Science Lab Automation Standardization and Modularization





Transforming Life Science Lab Automation Standardization and Modularization

The standards, coupled with the convergence of technologies that have been refined and cost reduced, enable the automation of manual laboratory tasks, delivering increased productivity, accuracy and quality. Standardization and modularization of life science laboratories that support automation increase efficiency and the number of practical applications in life sciences, including drug discovery and single-use pharmaceutical applications in small batches.


Festo announced and showcased products supporting these applications, including automated laboratory liquid handling, at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) 2022 conference February 5-9, 2022 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center . New products and demonstrations at SLAS 2022 are the results of Festo’s LifeTech division focused on understanding and designing solutions for medical technology and laboratory automation applications.


Evolution of Lab Automation


Initially, automated laboratory devices were built by scientists themselves as custom implementations. After World War II, companies began to provide automated equipment that performed very specific but expensive tasks. Today, modularization and standardization have resulted in an increasing number of low-cost electronic devices, including open-source devices compatible with common laboratory instruments. A growing number of labs are achieving synchronized automation at low cost, increasing productivity using modular building block solutions that can scale to fit various applications with standard physical and electronic interfaces.


Laboratory automation has evolved as a multidisciplinary strategy to research, develop, optimize, and capitalize on technologies in the laboratory that enable new and improved processes, reducing laboratory process cycle times and enabling experimentation that would otherwise be impossible. . Lab automation uses many different automation devices, including lab instruments, fluid devices, robotics, and software.


The application of technology in today’s laboratories is necessary to achieve rapid progress and stay competitive. Laboratories dedicated to activities such as high-throughput screening, combinatorial chemistry, automated clinical and analytical testing, diagnostics, large-scale biorepositories and many others would not exist without advances in the automation of laboratories.


Personalized and small batch medicine


The building blocks of laboratory automation are also playing a role in the movement towards personalized medicine and small-batch production. This evolution of the life science industry towards high-yield, small-volume production also requires flexible sterile biotech processes. Festo noted that this is a high growth area.



Autonomous laboratory platform: In addition to the building blocks, Festo presented and demonstrated a self-contained laboratory platform in an enclosure for automated laboratory liquid handling and analysis, built on open standard mechanical and software interfaces (Figure 1). It includes a gantry robot, mechatronic controller, pressure and vacuum generator (PVGA), control panel and space for a user/machine builder application CPU in a neat, ready-to-program assembly. Machine builders and users can design and build solutions by adding modules that require fewer mechanical and electrical engineering resources and shorten deployment time. This pre-engineered platform can ship in eight to 12 weeks, and production can be quickly scaled up if needed to meet time-sensitive applications such as COVID testing.



Figure 1: Free-standing laboratory platform in an enclosure for automated laboratory liquid handling. Illustration shows cabinet front (left) with scalable width from 750mm to 2250mm and depth of 750mm, and integrated gantry robot; and the back of the cabinet, which contains the motion controller, input/output (I/O) connectors, and user application processor.

Building blocks: Festo has also introduced a complete family of building blocks for developing automated pressure/time based dispensing and pipetting applications. This platform is compatible with a wide range of media, offers exceptional repeatability at high speeds and can be calibrated for targeted applications including:


  • Pressure/vacuum generator: The core component of the family, the PGVA pressure/vacuum generator (Figure 2) provides microfiltered air and vacuum for laboratory fluidics applications, including dispensing and pipetting. A single automated pipetting system equipped with a PGVA can transfer a range of liquid volumes from milliliters to +2% accuracy.

  • Open loop pipettes: Festo has introduced open-loop pipettes for aspirating and dispensing liquid under pressure in automated systems (Figure 3). A single automated pipetting system equipped with a Festo on-board PGVA pressure/vacuum airbox can transfer a range of liquid volumes from milliliters to +2% accuracy. The dispensing/pipette heads are available in one to 96 channel variants for high throughput applications.

  • Open source software: PGVA open source software to improve liquid handling integration FESTO The companies provide open source control software available at https://github.com/Festo-se/PGVA-1.



Figure 2: Festo integrated PGVA pressure/vacuum airbox.


Figure 3: Open loop pipettes for liquid aspiration and pressure dispensing in automated systems.


University programs


Some universities offer comprehensive programs focused on laboratory technologies, including Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, which offers a graduate program focused on laboratory informatics. The Keck Graduate Institute in California offers a graduate degree focused on the development of analytical, instrumentation, and data analysis tools needed for clinical diagnostics, high-throughput screening, genotyping, technologies microarrays, proteomics, imaging and other applications.



About the Author


Bill Lydon brings over 10 years of writing and editing expertise to Automation.com, as well as over 25 years of experience designing and applying technology to the automation and controls industry. He is also North America director for the PLCopen organization. Lydon began his career as a designer of computerized machine tool controls. in other positions he applied Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon spent two years as part of a five-person workgroup, which designed a next-generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and monitoring and control software. . He also designed software for the optimization of chillers and boilers. Lydon was product manager for a multi-million dollar line of control and automation products, then co-founder and president of an industrial control software company.



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