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2017 Automated Liquid Handling Survey Results

Learn readers’ liquid handling purchasing plans and more from our latest survey results.

Erica Tennenhouse, PhD

Erica Tennenhouse, PhD, is the managing editor of Clinical Lab Manager.

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Automated liquid handling (ALH) systems span the range from semi-automated multichannel pipettors to roomsized 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.

Top 7 Questions You Should Ask When Buying an Automated Liquid Handler

  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 systems used by survey respondents:

Individual benchtop workstations38%
Self-contained multi instrument systems22%
Don't know2%

Applications for automated liquid handling systems as reported by survey respondents:

Serial dilution63%
Plate replication33%
PCR setup33%
Plate reformatting30%
High-throughput screening23%
Whole genome amplication7%
Cell culture5%

Nearly 45% of respondents are engaged in purchasing a new automated liquid handling system. The reasons for these purchases are as follows:

Addition to existing systems, increase capacity
First time purchase
Replacement of an aging system
Setting up a new lab

Top 10 features/factors respondents look for when purchasing an automated liquid handler:

Safe sample handling - No cross-contamination85%
Accuracy and precision for a wide range of compatible fluids78%
Maintenance/service/availability of accessories and replacement parts59%
Maximum operator safety57%
Rapid throughput52%
Pipetting flexibility - Pipette with 384, 96, 24, 16, 12, or 8 tips46%
Sample tracking – automated recording and sample data documentation with a choice of bar code reader options45%
Ability to expand on instrument as requirements change40%
Size – small footprint32%

For more information on liquid handlers, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit

See previous survey results: