Pipettes can make up a key component in a connected lab. A connected pipette communicates wirelessly with an operating system that can remotely program the device. By moving to connected pipettes, scientists reap a list of benefits.
“Enabling a pipette with connective capabilities opens up many different opportunities to help researchers be more effective and efficient in the lab,” says Tommy Bui, business development manager, liquid handling solutions, Thermo Fisher Scientific. Connecting a pipette to other devices in a lab through a network, for example, allows the tracking of liquid handling.
Perhaps most important, connected pipettes can reduce errors. Nigel Skinner, head of marketing at Andrew Alliance SA, a Waters Corporation company, explains that a network can set up the protocol for a connected pipette, which prevents errors that can arise when setting it up manually for a specific workflow. For example, “the user does not need to select settings via menus on a miniature electronic display, which would be otherwise required if using a conventional electronic pipette,” he says.
How a pipette is being used can also be tracked more carefully and completely with connected devices. “Each step of the protocol execution on the pipette can be recorded, ensuring full traceability, which is convenient for both troubleshooting as well as for regulatory oversight,” Skinner says.
A lab also saves on labor by using connected pipettes. Instead of looking at a protocol for setup or next steps, for instance, the user just follows prompts from the device. So, a user can run through a workflow faster.
Despite many advances in connecting lab devices, scientists looking to connect pipettes must negotiate some obstacles. “The biggest challenge is getting people used to the idea of a connected pipette and its possibilities,” Bui says. “This is not only a new technology but a whole new way of pipetting.” Nonetheless, he points out: “Once people get used to using the pipette in this new way, they quickly realize the benefits of having a pipette that can help reduce errors and increase their efficiency.”
Some of the technology behind connected pipettes also poses some challenges. “The user interface and operating system—required to set up the protocol—are big differentiators for the user,” Skinner says. “If setting up a protocol requires special training and even skill in programming—for example, Python, C++—this could present a barrier to the user.” Those issues, though, can be resolved with more technology. Selecting a device with an intuitive user interface eliminates this challenge.
When looking for a connected pipetting system, a scientist should consider how the device will work with existing workflows. It should work seamlessly with labware already being used and not be locked into add-ons from the vendor.
Just ahead, connected pipettes will offer even more opportunities. “We will continue to see more intelligence integrated directly into pipettes that can not only help reduce pipetting errors but also make entire application workflows more efficient by leveraging data,” Bui says. For example, sensors in a connected pipette could provide information on the performance, which could be used in many ways—from making adjustments to protocols to determining when service is needed.
With an increasing number of connected pipettes and ones that include more capabilities, scientists will handle liquids more efficiently and accurately than ever. As Bui says, “For now, we are only scratching the surface in terms of the value a pipette can bring to the lab.”