Product Focus: Shakers
Customization, shrinking size, and other features open new applications
Assays from academics to industry require shakers. In the life sciences, for example, Ira Augenzucker, product line manager at Labnet International, a Corning Life Sciences company in Edison, NJ, says, “The new uses of shakers basically mimic what you see in the industry, which is an increase in the use of genomics.” He adds, “Shakers are used in almost every application in some fashion.” For example, he points out the wide use of shakers in cell culture work.
For years scientists have used shakers when growing bacteria such as E. coli to keep food and oxygen flowing to the cells. “For the past 10 years,” says Charlie Villano, product manager for shakers and CO2 incubators at Eppendorf North America (Hauppauge, NY), “shakers have moved into new technologies, including using cells to grow final products, such as growing algae for biofuels.” Furthermore, an increasing number of scientists work with cells in suspensions, which requires the addition of CO2 to maintain the pH. “It can be easier to grow the cells in a shaking flask,” says Villano. “In the past, you placed a shaker inside a CO2 incubator, but some CO2 incubators now have builtin shakers.”
Labs from academic institutions to multinational manufacturers always look for savings. “Almost every lab is crowded for space and running on a tight budget,” says Augenzucker. “That makes it useful when instruments provide more than one function.”
For example, a laboratory might use a variety of tube sizes and want to shake them in different motions. “In some cases, you might want tumbling—like turning the tube end over end— that provides agitation, and other times you might want gentle rolling,” Augenzucker says. “We offer a platform that does either and anything in between.”
At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Deborah J. Good, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, uses shakers in a wide variety of ways. She says, “My lab and I use shakers in just about every aspect of our lab work.” She adds, “The types of shakers we use vary from very fast shakers, which—with the help of metal beads—disrupt cells or tissue for RNA/DNA processing, to slow shakers for washing immunohistochemistry slides.” In addition, Good points out, “We use rockers, which rock just back and forth, or rollers, which roll the tubes, for fixing tissues. We also use both dry and wet shakers, heated and unheated shakers.”
Given this broad range of shaking applications, Good appreciates the variety available within the devices. When asked what she likes about the technology, she says, “There are a lot of different shaker units available for many different applications, and all seem to do the job that they were designed for.”
Still, Good can think of some things that she’d like to see developed. “In general, and given the current lab/grant financial situations,” she says, “it would be great if there were a heated or unheated shaker that could rock back and forth, roll, turn, and do orbital motions, all with the flip of a switch, depending on the application. I think this would be especially great for a lab with small amounts of lab space or labs just starting out, which have limited funds and need to buy an all-purpose shaker.” Beyond that, she’d like more control in some cases. For example, she says, “Another thought for improvement is better heat control with dry-heat shakers, which usually lose heat when the cover is lifted or from the top of the tube if there is no cover.” A smaller shaker would also help in some cases, Good believes. She’d like to see “a personal-size shaker—similar to the personal-size tube spinners—that could substitute for vortex units but do even more: shake, rock, roll, turn, heat.”
Creating custom devices
In thinking of trends in the applications of shakers, Stuart Gibb, director of sales for laboratory and analytical equipment at IKA Works (Wilmington, NC), immediately thought of customization. “This usually means taking an existing product and customizing it for a specific application,” he says. “This might include specific speeds or specific orbital or horizontal forces.”
Developing a custom shaker requires teamwork. As Gibb explains the process, he says, “We work out the details with the customer and the scientists and then build the system for them.” Although customized shakers often go to clinical, biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, and industrial applications, Gibb points out that his company “has developed some very specific products for academics.”
In terms of customizing shakers, sometimes it involves making just one, but it can be orders of tens or hundreds. “When a customer is looking for multiple units,” Gibb says, “they want a global supplier that can provide service locally.”
Selecting a shaker
To get started in shopping for a new shaker, Augenzucker says, “The very first question is, what is your application?” He adds, “Most customers have a primary application, and they often have a secondary application, which makes a multipurpose shaker come in handy.”
The catalogs show the various available features, such as the basic motions: orbital, reciprocal, nutating, and so on. In addition, different shakers provide various ranges of shaking speeds.
Beyond shaker features, Augenzucker points out the importance of a guarantee. He notes, “I would say that increased warranty time is becoming more of an industry standard.” He adds, “Because of the price of a shaker, people would not want to send them off for repair but would just buy a replacement, unless it’s under warranty and they can just ship it back for repair or replacement.”
So from customization to longer warranties, shakers keep providing scientists with more possibilities and reliability—just what research requires.