Liquid Handler Robots: Key Integration Factors to Consider
Integrating a liquid handling robot (LHR) with a laboratory information management system (LIMS) takes a collaborative effort between the lab, the LHR management software vendor, and the integration consultant.
In our last post, we talked about some of the problems that can occur when labs use automated LHRs, and three integration patterns we apply to mitigate the risks associated with these problems. In summary, LHR problems include:
- Problem 1: A transfer of liquids may not occur as expected
- Problem 2: Containers are in the wrong deck positions
- Problem 3: Wrong containers are on the deck
In this post, we’re turning to some of the key factors an integration team needs to understand before it begins developing the LHR-LIMS integration.
Integration software and LHR management software are generally flexible tools, so integrations tend to be easily customizable to meet a lab’s exact requirements, including budget and timeline constraints. We have found in our work with many labs that these two things — budget and timeline — are major factors in a lab’s decisions about which LHR problems to address and the combinations of patterns the lab chooses to implement. Some types of integrations are obviously cheaper and quicker to implement. But, for labs that want to implement the best possible solution, addressing as many potential LHR problems as possible (what we consider to be the platinum standard) will require a bigger budget and longer timeline.
Another key factor is the types of LHRs the lab has and their capabilities. Because of the huge variability across the different types of robots, there’s no one-size-fits-all implementation solution.
With these factors in mind, let’s look at some of the specific things the integration team will need to know before starting the process.
Questions we ask before beginning an LHR integration
Our Semaphore team asks labs to answer a number of questions so that we can help advise on the right approach to take based on the lab’s unique requirements. Questions include:
- Which LHRs does your lab have? Common robot manufacturers include Hamilton, Tecan, Qiagen, and Agilent. Note that each vendor/model combination has different features and capabilities, which will affect what can be achieved through the integration.
- Does your LHR have barcode scanning capability? This will determine whether you can solve the problem of containers in the wrong deck positions and the wrong containers on the deck with an integration. The LHR needs to be able to scan the containers on the deck to know if the correct ones are present and if they are in the correct positions.
- How sophisticated is the LHR’s information capability? Some LHRs have the ability to store information in a database, which can be accessed and queried by the LIMS. Less sophisticated robots may need to use a file-based integration. This is effective, but may still require a limited amount of manual work, which comes with some risk of human error. See our post on file- or API-based integrations for more details.
- Does the LHR have a sensor inside to tell it whether transfers worked or not? This can have a big impact on solving the problem of liquid transfers not occurring as expected.
We recommend labs think about solving the problem that will make the most difference, quickly.
For example, if your biggest problem is that the wrong containers are being loaded onto the deck, solving that problem through the integration could be as simple as having an LHR with barcode-scanning capability scan the deck. Otherwise, you could solve the problem by having the LIMS produce a picklist. The operator could carry this list with them on a tablet and use a barcode scanner to scan the plate before retrieving it and placing it on the deck to ensure they’ve selected the correct one. This is one way to solve the root cause of the problem rather than a symptom.Contact us if you’d like to talk about integrating your lab’s LHRs with the LIMS. We have experience and knowledge in this area and can evaluate your lab’s situation and discuss what options are available to you within your budget and timeline.