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Maintenance Matters: Centrifuges

“It’s extremely important that the user keeps an eye on the status of the rotor, maintains it properly, cleans it, and prevents aggressive chemicals from getting in,” product manager says

Rachel Muenz

Rachel Muenz, managing editor for G2 Intelligence, can be reached at

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Daily cleaning and inspection keep things spinning

As you can imagine with a piece of lab equipment that spins at high speeds, maintenance is important not just to keep a centrifuge running properly, but also to prevent accidents.

Wiping the centrifuge down after each use to prevent contamination, ensuring there is enough space around the unit for proper venting, and looking after the rotor are especially critical, according to manufacturers.

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“It’s extremely important that the user keeps an eye on the status of the rotor, maintains it properly, cleans it, and prevents aggressive chemicals from getting in,” says Maurizio Merli, global product manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “A rotor which is not properly maintained is a rotor that could explode and can cause damage to the unit and potentially … to the people around.”

He adds this only applies to metal rotors—carbon fiber rotors, for example, are maintenance-free as they “are designed to basically last forever.”

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“In general, keeping it clean every time you use it or at least weekly” is important, says Randall Lockner, marketing manager, Americas Centrifugation, at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences. Wiping down the interior portion of the centrifuge, the rotor chamber, and also any of the surfaces that have electronic components, such as touchscreens or keypads is a good idea when doing daily cleaning, he adds. Many users, however, often fail to clean the chamber.

“Most customers don’t really like cleaning the chamber because it’s dirty or because it contains chemicals—it contains spills from blood, or urine, you name it—but also because it’s difficult to access the chamber because there’s a rotor in place,” Merli explains, adding the latest centrifuges have features that make rotor removal easier. A major issue, Merli says, is users’ assumption that the next user will clean the centrifuge.

“You end up discovering that the centrifuge has never been checked or maintained for months and months,” Merli says.

One way users are solving this issue is by having a chart next to the centrifuge similar to those found in public bathrooms showing when it was last cleaned and who cleaned it.

Another key to a happy unit is inspecting components such as O-rings.

“Our standard practice is every time you’re going to use a centrifuge, especially floor-model or ultracentrifuges, is to inspect all of the critical components, look at the O-rings and gaskets,” Lockner says. “Look at the hub for any signs of wear or unusual marks.” Any strange noises or vibrations might warrant a service call.

Lockner says that many of the mistakes people once made with centrifuge maintenance have been eliminated with the features of the latest models, but most of the remaining centrifuge problems are caused by imbalance.

“It’s important that users are trained on the proper use of the systems,” Lockner says. “Usererror is often the root cause of most problems with operating a centrifuge. That is typically imbalance, maybe not paying enough attention to the balance of the samples across the axis.”

Many of these issues can be avoided by reading the user’s manual or consulting with the manufacturer and taking advantage of any training programs they have available. Merli says that centrifuges are advancing to a point where very little maintenance will be required. “The best way to do maintenance is not only instruction from the manufacturer, [but it] would of course be to have a system that doesn’t need any maintenance at all,” Merli says.

Be sure to check out our upcoming June Maintenance Matters where we’ll bring you great tips on looking after your lab washer.

What to know before signing up for a service agreement:

  • Is coverage on-site or off-site? How much downtime can the user expect?
  • What is the usual turnaround time on repairs?
  • Is the manufacturer using original parts or used/refurbished?
  • What is the limit to the total cost of repairs covered by the agreement?
  • Does the agreement entitle users to any software or other upgrades made to their centrifuge after purchase?
  • What is the number and location of trained field service engineers?
  • Vendors offer a number of programs, from simple preventive maintenance, to more intensive agreements, to inspection programs like Beckman Coulter’s Field Rotor Inspection Program