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Laboratory automation

Ready-to-install systems for sample handling

Festo has introduced handling systems for laboratory automation. The modular platform uses an embedded CANopen network.

Handling systems transporting highly sensitive samples and fluids (Photo: Festo)

After the doctor has taken blood from the patient, analytical laboratories takes over. The first thing to be done in the laboratories is capture the individual data, such as the patient's name or the analyses to be carried out, which are then encoded in a barcode on the sample vial. The next step is centrifugation, where high-speed rotation is used to separate the blood into solid and liquid components. Only then can the laboratory check the sample for specific antibodies or viruses. To obtain dependable results, precisely defined laboratory processes must be executed in a reproducible, efficient, and reliable manner. Nowadays, automated systems are the solution.

Automated documentation of the samples using a sensor helps to minimize mistakes caused by repetitive work (Photo: Festo)

Festo offers a laboratory platform. Its modules demonstrated the entire process sequence at the Medica 2016 tradeshow in Duesseldorf (Germany), from the pre-analysis to the analytical process and then the post-analysis. This included the automated handling of individual sample vials that are removed from or added to the sample carrier, the opening and closing of sample vials and the removal and addition of liquids in the nanoliter range. Dosing precision as well as the modularity, flexibility and expandability of the system are important parameters throughout the process sequences. Products from other manufacturers can also be integrated on the platform alongside Festo devices. This enables custom solutions to be designed for every application.

Functional solutions such as the washer module facilitate applications in small spaces (Photo: Festo)

Focus on the pipetting process

Blood sample processing is automated on the laboratory platform, as demonstrated by the pipetting process. First, a central transport system brings the blood sample to the pipetting module on a sample carrier. There, a highly precise pipette adds a specific amount of liquid blood components from the collection tube to each vial. The vials are then once again transported to the next module in the process by the delivery system on the platform.

Loads of up to several hundred grams can be precisely and safely moved using a classic 3-D handling system. It consists of an electric planar surface gantry EXCM that covers a maximum working space of 360 mm x 700 mm for the movements in the XY direction as well as an EGSK electric axis for the vertical Z movement for strokes of up to 100 mm. The system additionally comprises stepper motors, motor controllers, as well as a multi-axis controller, ensuring that the blood sample reliably undergoes all analysis processes.

The EXCM-based gantry features CANopen connectivity (Photo: Festo)

The EXCM provides a shielded CANopen interface using a 9-pin D-sub connector. The CANopen profile is manufacturer-specific using dedicated control and status words as well as target and actual values. EDS (electronic data sheet) files are provided to simplify system integration. The implemented CANopen protocol stack does not support the Heartbeat protocol, but instead provides the Node/Life guarding function.


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