September 6, 2017
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...
August 7, 2013
New MVS Survey
Oh behalf of HTStec, The LabSquad is pleased to inform you that their latest survey titled "LAB INSTRUMENT SUPPORT STRATEGIES TRENDS 2013" is now underway.
"Proper maintenance of laboratory instrumentation is an important consideration to ensure that lab assets remain available to researchers. Minimizing downtime makes the research process more efficient. A variety of support options are available from original equipment manufacturers (OEM), small third party independent service organizations (ISO), large multi-vendor service (MVS) providers and internal support staffs. Understanding the needs of lab users is essential for service providers to ensure customer success."
If you count on your lab instruments being in 'research ready; condition, please take a moment and fill out this most important survey. JUST CLICK HERE
June 3, 2013
Thought I would share a few articles and interviews that talk about Asset Management and Multi-Vendor Service support.
Next Generation Pharmaceutical-Outsourcing Asset Management, Bob Moore – GE Healthcare, interview
Lab Manager Magazine – The Evolving Service Model ; Good overview of service offerings from GE, Agilent, PE and Thermo Fisher.
BioScience Technology.com – Managing More Lab Assets
GEN – Lab-Asset Management Gets Smarter; older article (circa 2008) but shows that Asset Mgt within life sciences has been around for awhile.
May 21, 2013
Most labs have used floor mount or bench top centrifuges for separation based assays for decades. Whether spinning samples to remove air bubbles, spinning down cellular debris or isolating supernatent, there are numerous manual access centrifuges on the market, but when it comes to automation, the choices are limited.
For a number of years, Agilent (formerly Velocity11) has offered the compact VSpin. VSpin has a two position rotor with buckets for std microplates. It can spin up to 300o rpm/ 1000g and has an automated door that allows direct access to plates using an offset robot gripper. Units can be stacked on top of each other for increased use of vertical workspace. The Optional Access2 loader can also grab the plate and present it externally to a liquid handler gripper or top loading plate mover like Twister2 or KiNEDx.
Hettich also provides a larger unit called the Rotanta 460 which can accommodate 4 plates at speeds up to 6200prm, but is a bit more of a challenge to integrate as the robot gripper fingers need to reach into the unit from the top. I have seen this done with Mitsubishi and Staubli robots and Tecan actually integrates this unit under an EVO liquid handler accessible via an open locator in the deck.
Sias’s Ixion is a compact unit, similar in size to the VSpin, however plate access (total of two) is through the top just like the Rotanta and can spin up to 2000rpm. This unit integrates nicely with Sias’ Xantus liquid handlers.
Finally, BioNex offers the HiG centrifuge which can also spin two plates. The bright orange color makes this unit hard to ignore…and a closer look shows that this unit may be the best of the bunch. With an automated lid that retracts from the top, the HiG does not need a plate loader like the VSpin as plates can be accessed by just about any robot gripper. At 5000g, BioNex claims this unit to be the fastest robot accessible centrifuge available.
Maintenance requirements for each of these devices is similar. All include high-speed motors so proper ventilation is a must. Bearings must be greased, sensors cleaned and pneumatics (door opening, plate loaders) checked for leaks. Additionally, rotors and buckets should be checked for cracks or other signs of wear. As noted in previous blogs, rotational speeds can be verified using a digital tachometer but you may need to remove covers to gain access to the rotor (kids, don’t try this at home…call a professional). As always, if you ignore that last piece of advice, don’t come crying to me when your friends make fun of you because you have a mircrotitre plate permanently embedded in your cheek…
May 10, 2013
Having said that…I was a bit disappointed by a recent “Ask The Expert” interview by Tanuja Koppal, PhD. It was called “Optimizing Lab Services: Evaluating the Single-Vendor Option.” You can read the full article by clicking here.
Although there are some good insights there were some major pieces of informationmissing. For starters, it does not mention who the subject of the interview is. I will give Dr. Koppal the benefit of the doubt and assume the interviewee is not fictitious, but I have a hard time understanding why he/she would need to anonymized. Is there an MVS Mafia out there that requires a witness protection program? Secondly, all the MVS providers whom the user evaluated are also anonymized. I guess I could understand that given that many of these larger providers may have legal teams that would give any crime syndicate a scare.
In the spirit of peer review, I think it would be extremely helpful to both MVS providers and potential customers to know who this customer is and how they made the selection they did.
Who knows, using this feedback, maybe next time they need a contract, someone would be able to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse…
February 13, 2013
With sincere apologies to The Bard, this is a quandry that is often faced by many lab managers when their facilities group or a vendor informs them that a preventive maintenance procedure is being scheduled.
How do you know when the time is right to actually do such work (spend money)? Just because the manufacturer recommends that a PM be done every 6 or 12 months, is that the right thing to do? What if the instrument rarely gets used?
All too often, lab managers or those whose budgets will be tapped for PM services are in the position of ‘erring on the side of caution’ or take a break/fix approach. Spending unnecessarily is obviously not desirable, however waiting till something breaks can cost dearly. There has to be a better way.
A number of common lab instruments have PC based controllers (liquid handlers, readers, integrated systems) and many of those instruments include ‘log files’, which are used by operators to troubleshoot assays or techs to repair instruments. Savvy lab managers and OEM’s can use these logs to track actual usage as opposed to just following suggested time intervals. It requires someone to actually look up the log files (if they exist) and be able to interpret the data but unfortunately there are not a lot of alternatives.
The LabSquad (caution: gratuitous self promotion ahead) is looking for off-the-shelf monitoring solutions that can be adapted to lab use. Other industries commonly use data logging equipment to monitor temperature or humidity but machine usage (especially outside of manufacturing environments) is relatively uncommon. Additional obstacles present themselves in that not all lab instruments use a PC controller and there are not a lot of inexpensive data loggers to choose from. Not to be deterred, we are also looking at custom developed solutions that could be added to any lab instrument which would monitor usage and be inexpensive (cost less than US$100). Just to make it interesting, we would like such devices to wirelessly communicate with a host PC or tablet such that someone could simply pass by a lab like the fellow who reads your home water meter does by driving by your house to assess the usage of key instruments.
While The LabSquad makes it’s living by performing PM’s and repairs, we do strongly believe that we can help labs better spend their support budgets by investing available support funding more wisely. Some instruments (the workhorses) might need more frequent attention, while lesser used devices might have their PM’s pushed out further.
As Paloneus says in Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2; “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” Let us know what you think about PM scheduling and how your lab goes about keeping your instruments ‘research ready.’
January 31, 2013
Budget time…you know the drill. Salaries, supplies, new equipment and oh yeah, ongoing maintenance support. Has there ever been a more sexy and attention riveting topic than maintenance budgeting? Your options are pretty straight forward;
- Annual Service Contracts (typically 10-15% of purchase price, per year )
- Break/Fix Repair As You Go (cross your fingers, ready the checkbook)
- Basic Periodic Maintenance (pay for basic upkeep, then Repair As You Go)
If a particular instrument is critical to your labs mission you cannot afford downtime. And, while we are on the subject, exactly what types ofinstruments are mission critical? Of course, the answer to that question will be different for every lab and largely depends upon their focus area. For instance, if you have are in a cell biology group and have a high content imaging system such as a GE IN Cell, it might be wise to put that unit under a service contract with the manufacturer. This is advisable for any instrument that can be considered unique or expensive but could even be extended to relatively new technology such as microfluidic based analyzers. Caliper (now Perkin Elmer) provide a line of such analyzers for enzymatic assays as well as nucleic acids and protein analysis. The first and second generation instruments are still out there and they require a great deal of TLC and in depth operation and support knowledge. Newer versions of these refrigerator sized devices are much more compact and a lot less support intensive, eliminating complex laser alignments and environmental controls. Still, while the instruments themselves may be easier to service, the actual “microfluidic chips” that perform sampling and separation cost several thousand dollars each and users may run the risk of voiding the chip warranty if they don’t use the OEM to maintain the instrument. Stick with the OEM service contract.
Okay, so what instruments that are less specialized…do you really need to spend your precious budget dollars on annual service contracts? Let’s take a look at the staple of many labs, liquid handlers. There are literally thousands of such units from companies like Beckman Coulter, Tecan, Hamilton, Agilent and Perkin Elmer. These XYZ robots offer great pipetting repeatability and walkaway automation of mixing, filtration, incubation and other critical assay steps. A liquid handler that cost $100-150K ten years ago can still command a $10-15K+ price tag for an annual maintenance contract. That’s a lot, but is it really necessary? Liquid handlers, at least the good one’s from mainstream companies like those listed above have proven to beremarkably reliable. With even basic annual maintenance, these instruments can run trouble free for the foreseeable future. In fact, most OEM periodic or preventative maintenance (PM) procedures are just that, minimal approaches that clean, inspect and lubricate. One exception would be Tecan, whose EVO PM procedure calls for replacing all fluid path components making their PM (and subsequently their annual maintenance agreements) costs some of the most expensive. Is that necessary? Probably not, but one could argue that such a thorough approach is akin to performing a ‘field refurb.’ If your lab has GxP requirements, this would certainly be advisable, but otherwise you might think about doing this every other year. If you own a Beckman FX /NX, or PE Janus you might want to follow the Tecan lead, and get that ‘field refurb,’ especially if you have never had this level of service after several years of use.
Be wary of annual contracts for integrated robotic systems. A system with an industrial robot in a safety enclosure might tend to many additional instruments such as plate washers, readers, centrifuges, incubators and so on. If you apply the 10-15% of sales price logic to the purchase price of the system, you will find your coverage costs being inflated by things that could never fail like the extruded aluminum tables, the safety enclosure or even the design and build labor that was factored into the original system price tag. Better to look as the individual instruments in that system and determine their support costs piece by piece, not in the aggregate.
(In Part II of this post, we will look at the service requirements of thermal cyclers, plate readers and centrifuges).