Microplate Instrumentation

It is useful to differentiate between stand-alone products, workstations, and robotic systems. In general, a workstation is a device that performs multiple different functions (in our case mostly on microplates). As such, plate washers, dispensers, and readers are considered stand-alone devices, while liquid handlers that combine multiple tools, or that can perform multiple actions on a microplate, should be considered workstations. Robotic systems are a collection of standalone devices and workstations integrated into a functional environment, controlled by system management software and one or more robot arms to perform an application. In many cases the distinction between devices, workstations, and systems is difficult to make, e.g., a luminescence reader with a built-in injector and a microplate shaking function is not considered a workstation, while it clearly performs multiple actions on a microplate. Therefore these definitions may not be generally accepted, but they are sufficient for the purpose of this review.

Most of the devices that are available for microplate reading, scintillation counting, reagent dispensing, plate washing, etc. have been developed as bench-top, stand-alone devices and not as modules to be integrated into a robotic system. The result of the integration of such a module was therefore not always very reliable. This is especially true for the ability to control equipment by the system management software and the collection of data, generated by the equipment, in a way that is useful for the experimenter. More recently, the integration of devices in robotic systems has become significantly easier. Suppliers have made their equipment more robot friendly and easier to control by providing appropriate software interfaces. In spite of this, the industry is still far away from the standardization of device control and data output formats. In general, the combination of hand-held pipettors, etc. and stand-alone microplate equipment allow almost any microplate application to be performed manually.

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