Top 5 things to consider with Custom Labware projects

By Mykle Gaynor, CTO, Clickbio

Labware can be optimized for your application. It is easier than you think. The ability to make something new that meets a need in your lab can improve the quality and quantity of work you can accomplish. Every lab has different drivers:

  • Saving money on unrecoverable reagents. 
  • Decreasing liquid transfer times with optimized plate formats. 
  • Throwing less plastic in the landfill. 

What is your driver?

Here are the top five things I suggest to people looking to deploy a custom piece of labware.

1.       Define your specifications

Everyone has heard this. Everyone has been asked for specs. It is often done at first on a napkin. Specifications are key. Having a starting point for different people to work around is the bedrock of a custom project.  The more upfront thought that goes into the specs, the smoother the entire process often is. 

We have found the best way to activate the ideation has been with a simple questionnaire, which is easy to answer and thought-provoking.  

2.       Look at big picture timelines

The need for custom solutions usually stems from a large, long term need for change. Make sure the timelines for large projects are clearly understood and your deadlines are transparent to everyone involved as soon as possible.

Working back from the required completion date often goes a long way in determining when a given project needs to start.

3.       Have the right people at the table

Often there are not enough people involved as early as they should be.  Labware often requires input from your entire team.

  • How is it ordered? 
  • How is it stored? 
  • How is it packaged? 
  • How is the project paid for? 
  • How is the end product used? 
  • How much documentation/certification/validation is needed? 

All of these are legitimate questions that often need to come from different people. Do not be afraid to invite more people to the table.

4.       Keep the project flexible

 Every project encounters bumps. Try to be ready for them. There is the chance of a specification being overlooked or internal delays that slow the project validation down. The more flexibility you are able to maintain, the smoother the project will turn out.

5.       Think outside the box

 The point of a custom project is to make something new that solves a problem that is not currently being solved. Be creative. Do not limit your ideas to slight variations of products you find in a catalog. Ask the big questions ... and reap the big rewards of a satisfying custom project.

At the end of the day, coming up with new solutions that solve problems can be very rewarding.  

Let me know what you think.

Custom Microplate

Automation or Sneakerware?

While at Gibco our Senior VP introduced an interesting concept of Sneakerware to me. Sneakerware involved avoiding automation to gain a significant benefit in the efficiency of a lab. 

Our dilemma was with bar coding at the time. The thought of the day way to convert all of the 96-well and 6-well plate feeding and passaging in the lab to systems with barcodes. The idea was that the new Hamilton STAR systems we had could be fitted with bar code readers, and by using complex programming, all of the plates could be tracked.  We even went as far as exploring complete LIMS solutions from Elsevier and IDBS.  

Our team gathered data and arguments, assembled a number of PowerPoints and headed into the VP's office.  

He was a good VP. Heard us out. Asked to see a plate with a only bar code on it. Looked at us and asked, "What's in this plate?"

With a long pause we told him we did not know as we could not read the bar code yet.

His point was made with a stack of 10 plates and a sharpie. A brief label on the top plate and a diagonal line down the side of the other 9 was all it took.  

"It's been that way for years and it works." he remarked. Well said.

Instead of large complex methods we chunked up the processes on the liquid handler. Brought a max of 10 plates at a time to passage then returned them by foot to the incubator.

That mix of Automation and Sneakerware did a number of things for the lab, including:

  • Made the Automated Liquid Handler more accessible to more scientists.
  • Reduced the complexity of the code by over half.
  • Allowed for manual manipulation of the plates when the Hamilton was being used by others.

Many things can be done with automation. Simply put, some things should not be done through automation.

What's better, Sneakerware or Automation?  

Hard to say. I do know that in the case of Gibco, the mix of the two worked out great when we used the right labware and technique for the application.

 

Finding and Putting Together Solutions for Your Lab

I have been in the industry for a while now.  Worked on the bench, oversaw projects, worked for a number of leading device companies and now a number of years in running a consumables company.  Every day I get to learn something new.

There have been a couple common questions I try to ask just about every person I meet, "How do you solve your problems?"  As you could imagine, everyone has different problems and everyone looks for their solutions in different places.  

As a founder of a labware consumables company the conversations have been directed towards where we are growing our company.  What has surprised me is how the answers have been changing over time.

Back when I started working on the bench the go to information place was the seasoned scientist in the lab you worked in.   They more often than not could rattle off a part and part number that allowed me to get done what I needed.  

Later on things changed and grew beyond the traditional capacity of the environment I was in.  Picking up the phone and calling a distributor with a bag of solutions was where I turned.  More often than not I would engage in a thoughtful conversation and be able to apply an existing solution from the distributor to my problem.

Now I am interacting with more and more people needing solutions that can not be provided be either an internal Sr. Scientist type or the product bank from a distributor with a bag of parts.  The web is the most common place I hear people starting their difficult search now.  Tecan www.tecan.com as an example offers unique adapters for their automation platforms.  The SLAS page www.SLAS.org has a network of companies providing unique solutions.  Even searching around the web sites small device companies like INHECO www.INHECO.com has helped out many people I know find specific nuggets of information they needed.

It sounds obvious, as the wealth of information moves from individuals to the global web their is developing a double edge sword effect of shifting knowledge.  More and more can be sought after online while less is help locally.  

There will always be value in a conversation with a distributor or coworker. I feel the conversation about your problem often helps you revisit your problem.  That act of reflection can be powerful.

I don't see this trend changing anytime soon and plan on making sure the solutions Click Bio www.Click-Bio.com offers is found in all the places people look.

What am I missing?  Where will scientists turn to in the future to keep learning something new everyday?

 

Is Lab Automation becoming less complicated?

Most of us have seen the growth over the past few decades.  Bigger, better and more expensive equipment has become more and more popular.  Large integrations.  Large LIMS systems.  Big data.  Big inner-company automation groups. 

Before founding Click Bio my assumption has been bigger is better for a long time.  Recently while in a lab in San Francisco I kicked up a conversation about a low cost automated platform.  Open Trons http://opentrons.com/ came up in conversations.  If I heard correctly, $3,000 for a 1 channel robot, $4,000 for a 2 arm robot with 1 & 8 channels.  Open source software, online configuration, looks to have ~15 deck positions.  I was impressed.

What does that mean?  Swimming in the other direction from the large robot companies can really shake things up.  No integrations, no LIMS, no big data, no automation teams....  every one could in theory have their own little robot.  It is cheap.  It looks easy.  

My coworker and I brought up a major benefit, you now longer need to be running a large application to have tracking and verification for your liquid transfers.  Every plate, tip and liquid can be addressed by your own personal robot.  

Does it work?  Does it work well?  Will it catch on?  What do you think? I am excited to find out.