September 6, 2017

Covered Under Warranty?

(Maybe...)

CRASH!!!!    Your 8-channel liquid handling robot arm just raked across the deck and one of the z-axis rods looks bent.   No problem, just call the manufacturer and have them come fix it, after all, it is still under warranty...right?   Well, maybe...

Most instrument warranties cover parts and labor but, that usually comes with the expectation that the failure is due to normal wear and tear, not abuse or unintended usage.  Using the liquid handler failure above as an example, the 8-channel arm likely got damaged because it failed to move to a safe Z-travel height before moving in X or Y.    But, was that because the arm failed to execute that command or because the programmer failed to instruct the arm to do so?   While a failure such as this might not occur in assays that have been running successfully for some period of time, they are more common when the user is still developing the assay or debugging it.   This type of failure could also occur because an operator forgot to retract the arm after some assay interruption or error condition.

Many OEM's (Original Equipment Manufacturer) will work with you to get the instrument back online and some may even be tolerant of such failures to the point of covering the associated costs under their warranty..but, you will most likely find there is a limit to their understanding.   If an instrument fails under normal usage, OEM's should and will cover repair costs but if an instrument fails again, or frequently due to operator error the OEM could and should charge for parts and labor and travel, even though the unit is under warranty.  Although such a stance would be unpopular for end-users, it is really no different than what you might experience in other areas of your life.  If you use your SUV to haul a boat that exceeds the vehicles gross towing rate you will probably damage your transmission or rear axle.  Should you expect Ford or GM pay for that?   The honest answer is, no.

Whether you bought the instrument new and are under the original warranty, or if you have purchased an extended warranty, make sure you understand just what kinds of failures are covered.   Ask up front.   Even if you purchase refurbished instruments, there is a limit to they nature of the failures that are covered (BTW - you should always insist on a minimum of a 6 month warranty on refurbished equipment). New or used, a warranty is a quality statement by the provider.   Buying instruments "AS IS" or with a "Money Back Guarantee" should set off alarm bells that the low price option that looks so attractive today, could prove to be a costly investment in the future.   Caveat Emptor...   

What options should you consider when the warranty expires?   That will be the subject of our next blog...

 

July 24, 2015

About My Lab... Part 1 - The Questionnaire

 

Okay, let's make this one simple...

Click HERE to answer a few brief questions about how your lab approaches instrument support.

All info is confidential  We will publish results in an upcoming post.

Shortest darn blog all year...

 

June 15, 2015

Take CHARGE of Static Issues

Most people are taught to think of electricity via the analogy of running water.  The volume of water moved from point A to point B is analogous to voltage while the rate which the water flows is like electrical current.   Multiply the two together and you have power(P=IxE).  

Static electricity is the opposite of current electricity, in that it does not move.  It just builds up between two non-conducting materials (like plastic and rubber) and sits there, waiting to discharge (Google Triboelectric Effect).  If you have ever touched something and got a brief shock, you have likely experienced static build up and provided the path to ground that discharged that potential energy charge.  If you ever touched something and got a prolonged and painful shock, you have probably been electrocuted and may be reading this from the Great Beyond.

Static build-up occurs in environments that are dry.  Water molecules help diminish charge build up.  Insofar as laboratories are concerned, static is generally not an issue due to controlled temperatures and humidity...but they are not immune.   This can be routinely found to be an issue with ill-behaved liquid handlers.   Disposable plastic pipette tips have been known to 'hang up' or not eject from their mandrels  when humidity levels drop.   I have seen tips appear to dance in mid-air, only held to the mandrel by static charges.   This is dramatically visible with lower volume (384) tips as their mass is less to begin with and is exacerbated by the use of rubber o-rings on the dispense head mandrels.   Rubber, plastic and lack of humidity are the perfect recipe for static cling.

So what can be done?  Well, the simple solution is to add humidity to lab.  If the lab's HVAC system is not capable of effecting changes, you could place a humidifier near your liquid handler.  Just be careful as it is a fine line between adding moisture to the air and saturating your robot.  Get a can of Static Guard from your local grocery store.  These sprays add moisture (water and alcohol, with minerals and salts removed) and are very effective (albeit temporarily) when sprayed directly on rubber o-rings.   Another longer lasting and more pragmatic solution would be to place an ionizing fan right on the liquid handler deck, near your tips racks.  These devices add electrical charges to the air (anions, or negative ions) and the fan blows it across your tips which can change the electron imbalance just enough to offset clinging tip issues.

Don't let your labs environment make you retreat from automated assays....wait for it....here it comes...."CHARGE."    That just happened.  BAM.  

Next Blog - Vision Sensors (they can be used for lots of stuff, including pipette tip issues...)

 

April 3, 2013

Have I Got A Tip For You…

the-graduate

“I want to say one word to you. Just one word.  Are you listening ? Plastics.” - The Graduate, 1967

Automated liquid handlers are very quickly (if not already there) becoming commodity products.   While every liquid handling manufacturer claims certain features or twists on how they do things, ultimately they all do pretty much the same thing…suck and spit (keep it clean people, we’re running a blog here…)  One sure sign of ‘commoditization’ is when third parties begin to offer accessories that compliment or compete with a particular product and in the case of liquid handlers,  that most commonly means disposable pipette tips.

Wondering if there any performance or reliability issues associated with the use of third party tips? tips To be sure, original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) test and warranty their products using tips that they manufacture.   It is reasonable then for them to discourage the use of third-party tips insofar as performance guarantees are concerned.   Additionally, most of the OEM’s have made significant investments in the creation and maintenance of plastic injection molds that they or their supplier uses to stamp out their tips… so there is of course an understandable financial desire for them to want customers to purchase only OEM tips.

Insofar as periodic maintenance is concerned, end users should note that if they are performing routing CV checks (either gravimetrically or via a dye test), the tester needs to consider that differences in accuracy or precision may be affected by badly formed tips but that holds true regardless of who makes the tip.

However, it is not reasonable for an OEM to claim that the use of non-OEM tips “might” void the equipment’s warranty.  That’s a bit of a scare tactic that upon further reflection speaks more directly to lost consumable revenue than the fear of tip induced hardware failure.   I mean, if a tip gets stuck on a mandrel instead of getting shucked, I guess yeah, you could experience a crash that could damage the liquid handler.  Crashes do happen but such occurrences are rare once a tip is in production as most of the third-party providers I have dealt with have very stringent QC programs.    If you want to err on the side of caution, consider using OEM tips for new purchases and evaluate third-party tips once the warranty expires (usually 1yr).

Looking for alternative tip providers;

Corning/Axygen -   Agilent/V11, Beckman Coulter, BioTek, Caliper/PE, Dynamic Devices, Hamilton, Molecular Devices, Tecan, Qiagen

Labcon - Beckman Coulter

Phenix Research – Agilent/V11, Beckman Coulter,  Caliper/PE,  Eppendorf, Molecular Devices, Tecan, Qiagen

Thermo Fisher/Molecular BioProducts – Agilent/V11, Beckman Coulter, BioTek, Caliper/PE,  Molecular Devices, Tecan, Qiagen