2014 Automated Liquid Handling Survey Results

Automated liquid handling (ALH) systems span the range from semi automated multichannel pipettors to room-sized systems. The industry is trending toward versatile, modular ALH systems—seemingly for every budget. Likewise, instrumentation, software, and methods have followed the trend toward greater user accessibility.

Trevor Henderson

Top 7 Questions You Should Ask When Buying an Automated Liquid Handling System

  1. What kind(s) of dispensing technology is used? Peristaltic pump dispensing offers low prime volumes and backflushing; microprocessor- controlled syringes have fast output and high precision. Hybrid detection systems combine both technologies in one and can even add washing functions.
  2. Is plate handling automatable? Manual plate handling can slow productivity. Automating the process with a compatible microplate stacker increases throughput with walk-away operation.
  3. Can it accommodate magnetic or plastic bead-based assays? If using bead-based assays, it should be equipped with appropriate magnets or vacuum filtration for critical wash steps.
  4. What is the volume range, and how many different sample vessel types may be used?
  5. Ask about the software—is it integrated and user-friendly? Does it allow for pre-programmed and custom protocols?
  6. What is the flow rate spectrum? A wide flow rate spectrum allows use with sensitive cell-based assays to viscous liquids.
  7. What assay validation data is available for this specific liquid handler? This provides proof that the instrument performs as indicated.

Types of automated liquid handling instruments used by survey respondents:

Standalone 46%
Individual benchtop workstations 30%
Multi-instrument system 22%
Other 2%

When asked which of the following procedures respondents used ALH systems, for they replied as follows:

Serial dilution 23%
Plate reformatting 14%
Plate replication 14%
PCR setup 14%
High-throughput screening 11%
Cell culture 6%
Whole genome amplification 4%
Array printing 1%
High-density array printing 0%
Other 13%

Nearly 38% of respondents plan on purchasing a new ALH system in the next year. The estimated budget ranges for these purchases are as follows:

Under $10,000
$10,000 to $20,000
$20,000 to $30,000
$30,000 +
Don't know

Top 10 features/factors respondents look for when purchasing an ALH system:

Safe sample handling - No cross contamination 68%
Accuracy and precision for a wide range of compatible fluids 66%
Maintenance / Service / Availability of accessories and replacement parts 59%
Price 52%
Rapid throughput 42%
Pipetting flexibility - Pipette with 384, 96, 24, 16, 12 or 8 tips 41%
Maximum operator safety 40%
Sample tracking - Automated recording and sample data documentation with a choice of bar code readers 30%
Ability to expan on instrument as requirements change 23%
Size - Small footprint 21%

For more information on automated liquid handling systems, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit

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