Tecan Genesis Automation

Tecan pipetting robots are versatile and robust instruments commonly used in laboratory automation. Deck configurations are available for titer dishes, common vials, and custom racks, and decks can be up to 2 meters in length. Other options include 1, 4, and 8 pipetting tips per arm, 1 or 2 arms per machine, a plate feeder, barcode readers, disposable and non-disposable tips, and a fast-wash pump for tip purging. Tecan has an extensive instrument selection and is continually adding features. The Tecan user has multiple software control options: (1) LOGIC, which is now dated software used on older instruments, (2) GEMINI which is sold by Tecan, and (3) Custom developed software such as that developed by Fiore Automation (based upon the Tecan toolbox). LOGIC software allows the user to construct and save "Methods" for later execution. Methods perform specific pipetting operations and are quite useful and convenient for tasks that do not change from day to day or sample to sample. Through flat files, TECAN has provided mechanisms for importing external data into LOGIC. However, LOGIC does not address the Tecan plate feeder (RoMa arm) and its optional barcode reader. Software integration of auxiliary instruments is limited. GEMINI is a new Tecan product that provides user a easy to use control interface. Like Fiore's dispenser control software command lines are added to an edit window by clicking graphical tools. Selection of a graphical tool allows the user to set parameters for the selected operation. Via worklists, the Gemini scripts can be modified. Thus, the Tecan can be driven by external data. Custom hardware integration appears to be the only limitation when using GEMINI. As expected, custom software substantially expands instrument-control horizons. Custom control software excels in a production laboratory where the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is specifying a subset of titer dish samples to be retrieved. Each sample's aspirate volume can be unique and processing conditions sample-specific (such as mixing, reagent distribution, etc). Furthermore, custom developed software's ability to control/integrate other instruments represents the pinnacle of process control freedom. Production operations benefit from a graphical user interface that is specifically designed for the laboratory's needs. If sample processing is LIMS driven or cutting edge protocols require specialized hardware then custom software is the way to go. The following is an example laboratory process and how it was solved using a Tecan RSP150 and custom control software.

The Laboratory Process

Freezer-stored 96 well titer dishes contained a library of bacterial clones. A subset of the titer dish contained clones to be submitted for sequencing. This was a component of a direct sequencing laboratory which, based upon an up-front mapping procedure, predicted candidate clones that provided optimal sequence coverage. Aliquots from approximately 10% of the titer dish wells were to be aspirated and dispensed into a destination plate, which contained fresh media. Cells in the inoculated plate were to be grown, their DNA plasmids isolated and finally sequenced. A central LIMS managed the data and contained a record of which library plates/clone wells were to be consolidated.

The Tecan Solution

Dedicated Tecan software was written to interact with both the LIMS and the end user. From the TECAN computer, the user was able to view and run LIMS queued retrievals. Once retrieval was selected, the TECAN computer presented the user with a list of participating library plates to be removed from storage. The user had the option of manually loading batches of 18 plates onto the TECAN deck or placing up to 60 plates in TECAN storage hotels for automatic lid removal and table top loading by the TECAN RoMa arm. Integrated with the RoMa was a barcode reader for plate verification.

The specialized program guided the user through instrument setup by indicating where titer dishes were to be placed. Alternatively, the RoMa/barcode reader automatically scanned the hotels for plate locations. This application required further customization to handle library plates with aluminum foil plate sealers. Solenoid driven plate latches were incorporated into the TECAN deck to secure plates during pipette tip extraction from the seal. A third party digital I/O board allowed the software to switch on and off external devices such as the solenoids.

Additional software features included:

  • User settable wash protocols built from fast tip flushing, EtOH washing, and external/internal tip water washes.
  • Manual RoMa control for confirming plate compatibility and setup.
  • Manual barcode reader control. Manual instrument initializing.
  • Manual motion control for position evaluation.
  • Manual pipetting control for fluid handling evaluation.
  • Built in plate consolidation routines for combining multiple source plates into destination plates.


Fiore Automation, Inc., Salt Lake City, UT