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What's Popular in Microplate Technology? 2011 Survey Results

The microplate has evolved over the past 60 years into an indispensable piece of equipment used in many labs today. Here, we share the results of our microplate technology survey.

The microplate has evolved over the past 60 years into an indispensable piece of equipment used in many labs today. In 2007, HTStec estimated market growth of microplate instruments at about 6 percent per year, with an average high-throughput system costing anywhere from $65,000 to $110,000. (Note: simple absorbance readers for individual plates cost significantly less). Large pharmaceutical and biotech companies purchased 23 percent of systems, academic labs 25 percent, and small pharma/biotech 52 percent.

Microplates have become common lab ware in life science and medicine. Sixty-one percent of the labs surveyed use microplate technology; another 11% plan to make a first-time purchase within the next 12 months.
Microplate readers 39%
Microplate washers 19%
Microplate dispensers 9%
Microplate handlers 8%
Microplate robotics 8%
Microplate stackers 7%
Microplate sealers 7%
Other 2%


Microplate instruments are used widely in research, drug discovery, bioassay validation, quality control and manufacturing processes. Their usefulness lies in their ability to reduce, if not eliminate, the amount of human subjectivity needed to evaluate plate contents.
Biotechnology 29%
Education, Research 24%
Pharmaceutical/Medicine 18%
Clinical/Diagnostics 17%
Chemical industry 5%
Environmental 2%
Food and beverage industry 2%
Other 3%


For a laboratory involved in routine assay development and screening, achieving higher throughput depends on the ability to process multiple batches of assay microplates accurately and swiftly. Vendors offer systems for high-throughput primary screening, where labs need to process a large number of microplates, as well as for secondary screening, where labs process a large number of different assays.
Assay development 19%
Biomolecule concentration measurement 12%
Bioassay validation 11%
Biomarker research 10%
Cell biology 8%
Compound investigation 6%
Disease studies 6%
PCR setup and cleanup 6%
High-throughput drug screening 5%
DNA quantification 4%
Quality control 4%
Proteomics 3%
Stem cell research 2%
Other 3%


Microplate reader detection modes define the instrument’s experimental capabilities, while the optics determine spectral selectivity. Detection modes include top- and bottom-read fluorescence, fluorescence polarization, time-resolved fluorescence (TRF), time-resolved fluorescence energy transfer (TR-FRET), AlphaScreen, absorbance and luminescence. Absorbance and fluorescence intensity constitute more than half of all applications.
Absorbance reader 35%
Fluorescence reader 19%
Multi-detection reader 17%
Microplate spectrophotometer 15%
Luminescence reader 13%
Other 2%


Labs have added components to their microplate instruments that are designed to perform specific functions, such as plate piercing, sealing, barcoding and centrifugation. The top two components used in the labs of the respondents are centrifugation and barcode scanners.
Centrifugation 30%
Barcode scanner 21%
High-speed robot 13%
Additional stacker cassettes 12%
Labeling and sealing 12%
De-lidding stacker cassettes 4%
Other 8%


Automated, unattended, reliable operation seems to be what most users demand from their microplate management systems. In order to drive down reagent costs, most labs in industry have migrated from screening in a 96-well format to screening in a 384-well format. A few have also moved to an even more miniaturized platform, using 1,536 wells.
Automate repeatable tasks and ensure reproducible results 20%
Avoid the need for increasing head count in the future 12%
Automate unattended repeatable tasks and ensure reproducible results 10%
Improved data quality 10%
Increased sophistication of experimental techniques 9%
Increasing sample throughput 7%
Prepare and test patient samples 7%
Handling devices for high-throughput screening of samples 6%
Improve our ability to meet regulatory requirements 6%
Incremental improvements in capability 6%
Improve the consistency/reliability of procedure execution 4%
Intellectual Property Management 1%
Other 1%


To increase microplate capacity, labs are integrating two or more instruments. Laboratory equipment vendors may sell stand-alone microplate instruments, but most labs prefer purchasing the robotics already integrated with readers, stackers and other instruments.
Microplate readers 53%
Microplate washers 28%
Microplate robotics 19%
Microplate handlers 14%
Other 4%


Flexibility (available detection modes), performance (sensitivity, throughput) and cost are prime considerations in microplate reader selection, although the order of preference may differ for each market. Pharmaceutical screeners typically value throughput as their top criterion, while academic researchers may be more satisfied with lower throughput but high flexibility, particularly if it means a lower overall cost.

Additional things to consider in making a purchase: The number of people who will be using the instrument, and your desired throughput; the number of parameters required for read-out; whether or not the assays will have an endpoint; whether or not the results will be acquired over a time course; and the desired plate format, as plates can range from 96 wells up to 1,536 wells.
Accuracy 87%
Price 81%
Service and support 78%
Performance (sensitivity and throughput) 78%
Ease of implementation 73%
Reliability 72%
Total cost of ownership 71%
Flexibility (available detection modes) 68%
Software for data collection/analysis to documentation and validation to LIMS 57%
Availability of trained people to support programs 55%
Ability to effectively plan programs to work with all types of microplates 48%
Speed read mode 47%
Add-on functionality and upgrade capability 43%
Small footprint/size 41%
Input special plate configurations 32%
Robotic integration 23%


The biggest challenge in the implementation of a microplate management system is the funding. Prices can range from under $10K for a stand-alone instrument to $100,000 for more complex systems.
Funding 38%
Product & technology evaluation/selection 12%
Getting management support 8%
Finding trained personnel to manage/implement project 7%
Validation / meeting regulatory requirements 7%
Selling the benefits of microplate technology 6%
Planning 5%
Project management 5%
Other 12%

To see the complete survey results and a list of vendors please visit