Best Liquid Handing Systems

Liquid handling systems automate a variety of tasks in the lab. Learn the benefits of using a liquid handling system and how to select a system.

Working in a biology lab requires specialized equipment. There are a variety of tools available, but when you are in a lab, you want to be selective with what equipment you use. There are two primary reasons to limit the items in your lab. The first is the cost. Lab equipment is typically quite expensive, and labs have to balance their budget between buying supplies and running experiments. Keeping the budget down is a good way to free up resources for more important tasks. The second consideration is size. Some biologists are lucky enough to work in larger spaces, but most labs only have a limited amount of space. Because of the large size of many essential lab equipment, anything to reduce space is helpful.

One of the most helpful devices for a biology lab is a liquid handling system. A liquid handling system is a relatively small device which allows biologists to perform a variety of tasks, including microplate washing, pipetting and sample preparation. The liquid handling system automates many tasks biologists previously performed by hand. It also combines several other devices, leading to a cleaner lab space.

What are Liquid Handling Systems

Liquid handling systems, also known as automated and robotic liquid handlers are a type of automated device used to perform liquid handling tasks. Not only does it automate many tasks which scientists previously viewed as tedious, but it performs these tasks with more reliability and efficiency than a human is capable of.

Liquid handling systems are robotic units which must be programmed to perform various tasks relating to liquid. Programming the robots is relatively quick and easy, especially in comparison to how long it takes to perform liquid handling tasks by hand. Once the robot is programmed, it does not require any supervision, freeing up biologists to perform other tasks in the lab. Liquid handling systems are available in a variety of types and sizes.

Parts of a Liquid Handling System

Liquid handling systems are divided into several spots. The first is the control system. Biologists use the control system to program movements for the system’s robotic arms, which carry out the tasks. Various sensors are located throughout the liquid handling system, which provides a greater level of control and accuracy over each task.

Liquids are distributed through dispensing heads, which can be customized to control the flow of liquids. The heads are capable of spraying on both an X and Y plane. The system also features a washing station, which is used to clean the dispensing heads of the system. This saves you the hassle of dismantling the device between experiments. 

When to Use Liquid Handling Systems

While liquid handling systems are most commonly associated with biological labs, other groups also benefit from the system. Epigenetic and genetic experiments frequently use liquids. Many medical groups also benefit from a liquid handling system when developing medications. Pipetting is the most popular use of liquid handling systems, in no small part because how tedious and time consuming it is to perform by hand. Liquid handling systems are also used for sample preparation, DNA extraction and performing cell-based assays as part of a drug screening.

Choosing the Right Liquid Handling System

There are many liquid handling systems on the market. While it is not the most expensive lab equipment, it is still something you do not want to purchase multiple times if it can be avoided. As with any piece of lab equipment, it is worth the time to research different models and assess your laboratory needs.

An important question is what type of workflow do you need the liquid handling system for? Some devices are built with different tasks in mind, which is another consideration. There are generalized systems built for any sort of liquid handling, but a specialized platform ultimately goes faster. For example, some systems excel at dispensing and mixing samples. You also want to look at the size and shape of each device to find the best one to fit your lab. If you are keeping it in the lab, you may have more space to work with, but there are smaller, portable systems if you are frequently on the go.

Tecan Freedom Evo 200

Tecan has developed several models of liquid handling systems, but the Freedom Evo 200 is considered one of the best options because it is highly customizable. It comes in four separate grid sizes, 27, 30, 45 and 69, making it a good choice for both small life sciences or larger labs. The Freedom Evo line also comes with additional attachments, so you can combine air and liquid displacement into a single workstation. The cost varies based on the size of the workstation, but on average you can expect to pay between $20,000 to $30,000.

Biomek 4000

The Biomek 4000 is an excellent unit if you work in a small lab. It is even small enough where you can easily transport it to different labs, or even take it into the field. The small size does mean it will not be able to handle as many samples as some of the other liquid handling systems. The base unit has four off-deck mounts, which allows you to add additional equipment, like shakers, thermocyclers or waste disposal units. It is considered one of the best units for pipetting, with options for anything as small as one microliter, up to 1,000. The smaller size also makes it one of the least expensive units, often costing around $10,000 to $13,000.

Eppendorf epMotion 5070

Eppendorf’s epMotion is another small liquid handling system designed with portability in mind. In addition to the smaller size, what sets the epMotion apart from other liquid handling systems is the optical sensors, which allows you to use other labware with the system. For more advanced pipetting takes, it allows the user to manually take over, switching from automated to manual with minimal difficulty. Despite the size, it still has enough room to support up to 96 samples at a time. Despite being one of the newer devices as of writing, it was created with affordability in mind, costing between $2,500 to $5,000.

Hamilton Microlab STAR

The Microlab STAR is another unit that comes in three different sizes. It was built with a modular, circular interface, which allows it to fit different configurations of samples. It can support up to five microplates at a time, and comes pre-programmed with 32 tube positions. You can also install a camera and tube transportation system onto the robotic arms. It is one of the pricier models, with the smallest sizes going for around $30,000 to $40,000.