Robotic microplate handling system

Microplates are rectangular blocks of plastic that contain an array of test tubes. Standard in the laboratory, these plates vary in size from 96 wells to 1,536 wells. Customers, such as pharmaceutical, biotech, research institutes and universities throughout the world incorporate microplates in their processes. They typically stack the microplates and hand load each one into a processing instrument, which can take a lot of time, making employees stand for long periods of time.

Peak Analysis and Automation (PAA) provides S-Lab, an automated plate handler that frees workers to perform more important tasks. The company has created its Overlord scheduling software for laboratory automation, which allows automation of workcells containing one to over 20 scientific instruments with one or more robotic arms. PAA’s S-Lab plate handler automatically detects how many microplates are loaded into a stack, then picks up the plate, and moves it to the connected instrument. At the end of the operation, S-Lab will again pick up the microplate and move it to the output stack, continuing this process repeatedly until it has processed all the plates through the instrument.

The gripper for the S-Lab incorporates a customised version of maxon’s DCX motor and gearbox combination with a pinion attached to the motor shaft. These brushed DC drives provide high-power operations through the use of high-performance magnets. The motors use precious metal or graphite brushes, can be equipped with standard preloaded ball bearings or sintered bearings, and cover a large voltage  range with six different ironless windings. The motors are configurable online with almost all mechanical configurations available. For use in small spaces, the DCX motor is also available in a short configuration without a flange.

The simple open and close operation of the gripper, using the DCX motor, can handle loads from 50g to 500g, providing a secure grip on the microplate. The key criteria for the motion system was reliability – it is never acceptable to drop customer samples during important lab tests – although product cost was very important. PAA found that maxon’s customer support and competitive pricing provided it with the confidenceit needed to make the best choice for the S-Lab automated plate handler.

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