Experiments in high throughput

4th March 2013

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Werner Zinsser looks at high throughput formulations of 'difficult' media, including highly viscous liquids and solids.

Today, not only the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries have the need for high throughput experimentation of new formulations, but also the 'heavy' industries, such as oil, rubber and other productions, are forced to use new technologies to speed up their product development time and also keep the costs under control.

During the past 10 years, Zinsser Analytic has successfully transferred its experience and know how of high throughput experimentation from the pharmaceutical industry to the needs of other industries which means facing new automation challenges.

For example, the design of new lubricants for high performance engines, Turbines, etc, is of enormous interest for oil industry research.

Traditionally, lubricants were manually designed on the laboratory bench, only a few test formulations per day. Standard liquid handling techniques cannot reliably handle viscous materials.

Zinsser Analytic has developed BLENDA, an automated robotic workbench system with two independently operating arms, for high throughput production of blends of viscous materials (oils, polymers, additives). Each arm is equipped with a manifold for handling special viscous media dispenser tips and a gripper for transportation of the blending vessels. Highly viscous media are dispensed by using pre-heated positive dispensing tips for each medium.

The combination of volumetric and gravimetric dispensing enables outstanding performance with an accuracy of ≤1 per cent. Efficient mixing of the blends can be achieved by strong magnetic stirrers, vortexers, as well as overhead stirring which can be integrated into the platform. All mixing devices can be equipped with software-controlled temperature control.

The modular system configuration allows an easy upgrade with additional devices. In many cases, accurate dispensing of solid materials into the blends is required.

Zinsser Analytic has developed two reliable dispensing systems for a wide range of different powders. In the range of 1-150mgs REDI Plus delivers solids directly into all vials on the deck using a specially designed self-calibrating powder tips. Larger amounts of up to 10 g can be dispensed under gravimetrical control by a vibrating powder feeder.

For further analysis, sample aliquots can be collected at any given time during a run. Online analysis of physical-chemical properties, such as viscosity measurement, has been successfully implemented. These online measurements can even be used to directly adjust a certain viscosity by controlling the amount of material that is dispensed to the blend. The system is controlled by the WinLISSY software package that controls and optimizes the methods and enables the system to work with both arms completely independently.

The automated dispensing is highly accurate and usually achieves more reproducible results than manually performed blends. It has been possible to prepare 2700 formulations in three month, compared to about 150 blends which can traditionally be made by one person in the same time.

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Werner Zinsser is CEO of Zinsser Analytic GmbH, Frankfurt, Germany.

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