Integrated Lab Automation for Tight Budgets and Small Spaces

Are you considering entering the world of integrated laboratory automation? Many labs begin with the end in mind and focus on the detection technology – e.g. DNA sequencing, HPLC, mass spectrometry, imaging. Lab automation is often not considered until much later. This leaves sample preparation to be handled manually, which is inefficient, costly, a challenge to trace, and difficult to scale.

6 Myths About Buying Refurbished Lab Equipment
6 Myths About Buying Refurbished Lab Equipment

Limited space and tight budgets? If your protocols need only a few or smaller peripherals, you could take a workstation-based integration approach. If you need more capacity or have larger devices to integrate, you can take a distributed integration approach. For this a collaborative robot arm, like the PreciseFlex PF400, is perfect.

In both approaches, you can save significant costs by working with a premium refurbished equipment provider, like Atlantic Lab Equipment. It’s not uncommon to save about half the cost over purchasing new equipment.

Why Use Integrated Laboratory Automation?

It’s best to think about your plan for automation early in developing your lab processes. The benefits of integrated lab automation go beyond addressing high sample volumes, such as:

  • Improved process control – repeatability, consistency, error reduction
  • Enhanced sample and material tracking – error reduction, and helpful for troubleshooting
  • Increased lab safety – less repetitive stress injuries
  • Better resource utilization – deploy scientists for value-added activities instead of tedious tasks

With integrated lab automation, you can scale your lab to keep pace with your demand while minimizing costly personnel additions or compromising space limitations. Besides the direct personnel costs of salary, benefits, and training, laboratory space costs can be an important factor.

In biotech hot spots, like Cambridge, MA, lab rent can approach $80 per square foot per month. The typical lab technician is going to occupy about 20-30 linear feet of bench space. This is about 90-150 square feet, which translates to about $7-$11k/month for the lab space. Don’t forget to add taxes, insurance, and maintenance to that triple net lease, and you’re now over $100/sf. Of course, other places are less expensive – you might only be paying $15-$20/sf in RTP for lab space.

A common lab scenario involves adding instrumentation and automation in a piece-wise approach. Add a fluorometer for plate reading; add a centrifuge for spin-downs; add a washer for, well, washing; add a liquid handler for pipetting; and so on. Each of these instruments operates on their own, connected by “sneaker net.” The lab personnel moves the material from one piece of equipment to another. This is non-integrated automation … YOU are the automation! This is a costly and inefficient model, prone to errors.

When we start to connect each of the components needed to perform a complete protocol, at least physically, and perhaps also informatically, we have integrated automation. The liquid handling system is usually at the center of this type of setup. It’s performing the lion’s share of the work. The other devices are “peripherals.” The key however is that all components are integrated allowing for an automated process that avoids costly mistakes while improving process control and sample tracking.

The two ways to provide integrated automation for lab protocols are:

  • Workstation-based integrated automation: The liquid handling system is the “hub” that provides the pipetting and the plate movement. Peripherals integrate directly to the liquid handling robot.
  • Distributed integrated automation: A separate robot arm is the “hub” and provides the connection between the liquid handling system and the other peripherals.

Workstation-based Integration

The most cost-effective and space-efficient solution handles the task with the least hardware. Liquid handling workstations are powerful pieces of equipment for the lab. Complex protocols can be performed on many samples in a tight space. Do you have a limited number of protocols that can use a couple of smaller peripherals? Then a workstation-centered integration approach may be your best option.

Early liquid handlers only focused on pipetting. Other operations happened off the robot. Modern liquid handling robots offer much more capability for integrated applications. Of course, liquid handlers can perform pipetting tasks like sample transfers, reagent additions, dilutions, cherry-picking, and mixing. But, the ability to mount multiple arms on the workstation enables integrated automation. This allows you to have (depending on the manufacturer):

  • an 8-tip arm for reformatting between different types of labware, or individualized operations like normalization or liquid level sensing for varying sample volumes,
  • a 96- or 384- channel head for plate-based operations like reagent additions or mother-daughter transfers, and
  • a plate manipulator or gripper arm for moving plates around the deck and to/from peripheral devices.

That last point is the kicker – a plate manipulator is the key to integration. If your protocols only involve liquid transfers, you may not need any integration. But most protocols need some other devices. Common peripherals include thermal cyclers, shakers, heat blocks, incubators, plate washers, plate readers, magnetic bead plates, or storage.

A plate manipulator can take care of this. This arm includes a gripper to grasp the microplate to move it around the deck. Some arms can also rotate and use a cantilever (sideways) gripping configuration. The Tecan RoMa arm and Hamilton iSWAP arm are two good examples. Other plate manipulators are overhead (vertical) and grab the plate from the top. These manipulators are typically attached to the 96- or 384-tip heads.

Vertical plate manipulators are best when plates only need to move within the main deck area. They can access some peripherals, but only ones that provide plenty of room in the “landing area” for the plate. These devices need to be within the robot envelope, taking up valuable deck space.

Cantilevered plate manipulators are the most flexible. They can access peripherals with tighter entry points; reach outside of the main envelope, which saves deck space; and rotate to access peripherals in different orientations. And, some can reach below the deck to access peripherals under the robot or handle tubes instead of plates.

Distributed Integration

What does the typical vision of a distributed system conjure up? Do we see big, industrial-looking robot arms with an array of instruments circled around a big table behind a tough safety enclosure? This is one way to go, but this is an article about integrating on a budget and in small spaces. How can we talk about distributed automation?

Enter the collaborative robot (a.k.a. cobot). A collaborative robot is a robot arm that is so safe that it needs no safety enclosure. Lab personnel and the robot arm can occupy the same space without risk of injury. This drastically reduces the space needed to operate. These robots can be placed next to the liquid handler and the peripherals to create a complete distributed system on a bench top.

The leader in this category is Precise Automation with the PreciseFlex PF400 sample handling robot. The PF400 is a 4-axis SCARA robot that can live on the bench top. It marshals plates, tip boxes, reagent troughs and other consumables between devices. The arm has a reach of almost 2 ft, a z-height of 16”, and a rotation of 347°. With this, the PF400 can easily access the liquid handler, external storage, and a host of additional devices. The extended reach version can access up about 30”, and an extended height version extended the z-direction to almost 30”. This provides an extensive working volume in a small footprint.

How can adding a robot arm help you to keep costs down and minimize space usage?

  • Utilize a smaller, simpler liquid handler – since the liquid handler has fewer responsibilities, you can use a smaller workstation. For example, in the workstation-based approach, you may need a Tecan Freedom EVO 150 or 200 with 2 or 3 arms (one of them a RoMa arm). With a cobot-based approach, you may only need a Tecan Freedom Evo 100 or 150 with 1 or 2 pipetting arms or an Agilent Bravo.
  • Enable multi-tasking – with the extra envelope capacity of the cobot, you may be able to configure one system for multiple protocols, using different methodologies. One liquid handler (usually the bigger investment) and many peripherals. In contrast, with the workstation-based approach, you are limited to a narrow range of protocols for the limited peripherals. Automating other, different protocols would require a second workstation-based configuration.
    • Workstation-based approach – double the cost, double the space.
    • Cobot-based approach – less than double the cost (the cost of the extra peripherals), and about the same space (think vertical stacking).

There are two methods to control and coordinate the activities of the robot and devices:

  • Scheduling software, like Genera from RetiSoft, will manage the protocols and help to determine the material flow. In addition, the software can interface with your LIMS system for advanced sample tracking. This software is tightly coupled with the PreciseFlex robots and has a long design history.
  • Direct programming can also be used to statically schedule the order of operations between devices. The PreciseFlex robots include an embedded programming environment that is very similar to Visual Basic. This is a good low-cost option for one or two instrument protocols that do not require dynamic scheduling.

Implementing Integrated Automation – Shameless Plug

Atlantic Lab Equipment has the capabilities to assist with both approaches to integrated lab automation for budget conscious and space limited laboratories:

  • Premium refurbished lab equipment – save significantly over new equipment, with expertly serviced instruments that are delivered with warranty.
  • Precise Automation robots – ALE sells, services, and supports new and used PreciseFlex robots to deliver the most flexible, configurable, and compactly integrated automation.
  • Integration services – our application team can help you configure, integrate, and install your system.

Contact us for more information or to request a quote.

Eight Things You Want to Know About The Atlantic Lab Equipment Outlet Store

Atlantic Lab Equipment is headquartered on the North Shore of Boston. We have a second facility in San Diego. And, we buy and sell lab equipment globally. A big part of that global business is thanks to our ALE Outlet Store, which we call “ALOE”. In addition to our direct sales, service, and support, we’ve been operating an eBay Storefront since 2010. There we sell a wide range of lab equipment at great prices. Instruments from ALOE have made their way to China, India, Tanzania, many places around the U.S., and around the world. We thought you might like to learn a little more about ALOE – The Atlantic Lab Equipment Outlet Store.

1. Why did you start an outlet store?

We buy lab equipment from a variety of sources. In some cases, we pick and choose the specific instruments that we want. In other cases, we buy a whole labs-worth of equipment. And, we also work with large clients to help manage their lab equipment assets. Often we’ll need to sell instruments they no longer need – whatever it may be.

The ALE outlet gives us a way to reach out to a large audience through the granddaddy of online marketplaces. eBay is second only to Amazon Marketplace with over $90 billion in products sold in 2018. This gives a different set of customers another way to find us. Here they can get the instruments they want for a great price, backed by a reputable company.

2. How is ALOE different from ALE’s main business?

Our primary business centers around refurbishing and selling sophisticated lab equipment for liquid handling/lab automation, analytical chemistry, detection systems, and genomics systems. These tend to be larger systems that may need configuration or integration. In contrast, many of the items we sell on ALOE are smaller, more common types of lab equipment. Although, we do get some big items on there.

3. What are the most popular items in the outlet store?

We sell a lot of different types of lab equipment. Almost anything that we get at ALE can end up in the ALE Outlet. Occasionally, we get some non-lab equipment, like power tools. When we buy whole labs or large lots of equipment, there can be other items besides laboratory equipment. One way or another, we find a home for most things. Our best selling lab items are:

  • Bench-top centrifuges, micro-centrifuges
  • Thermal cyclers
  • HPLC components
  • Mixers, shakers, vortexers
  • Waters baths
  • Vacuum pumps

4. What are the smallest and biggest items you’ve sold at the ALE Outlet?

We’ve sold many small items – hand pipettors, micro-centrifuges. We currently have a NanoDrop UV/Vis spectrophotometer. That’s pretty small, especially considering what it does. The largest item we’ve sold in ALOE was a mass spectrometer. Although, we have a Biacore surface plasmon resonance system in the store right now. That’s probably the biggest item we’ve ever listed.

5. How much does the equipment cost?

Considering that you can find everything from water baths to mass specs in the ALE Outlet, prices cover a very wide range. Generally, prices start around $100, and a few pieces of equipment can reach close to $100k. Although the median price in ALOE is around $1500. There are many items within reach of even modest budgets.

6. Are items in the ALE Outlet lower quality than items you sell directly?

We like to sell great, high-quality equipment to ALL our customers, including the outlet store. It doesn’t do us any good to have an unhappy researcher on the other end of a transaction. Many of our clients are repeat customers. So, selling sub-par products doesn’t give them a reason to come back again. Right now, we have 100% positive reviews and we like to keep it that way.

We inspect everything that comes through our door. Most items come with a 30-day no hassle guarantee. If you have any problems with the instrument in the first month, we’ll replace it or you can return it for a refund. Extended warranties and service contracts are available for some items.

We sell some items “as-is”, but this is pretty rare, and the reason is clearly stated. The item could be incomplete or non-functional but may have value as parts. Of course, “as-is” items, are available at exceptional prices.

7. Why do you call it “ALOE”? That doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t it be “ALEO”?

Yes. It probably should, but that’s one of those things that happens sometimes. Of course, the proper acronym would be “ALEO” – for Atlantic Lab Equipment Outlet. But it became natural to refer to the outlet business as “AL-owe” around the company. And, I guess we started spelling it the way it sounded instead of how it reads. OK. It’s a little weird, but it’s our kind of weird. It just feels right to say, “‘AL-owe’ is having a great month.” Somehow, “this centrifuge is going on ‘AL-lee-owe'”, or “we’ve got a bunch of ‘al-LEE-owe’ shipments to get out today” isn’t quite the same.

8. How can I learn more about ALOE – The Atlantic Lab Equipment Outlet Store on eBay?

You can go right to the ALE Outlet and find great deals on a wide range of lab equipment. To help customers find us in eBay, we set up a web address that will take you there directly:

One of the best ways to keep up with the ALE Outlet is through social media. We feature lab equipment daily and announce deals on our Twitter and Facebook accounts. So, follow us to see what’s new and interesting in the outlet store:

Twitter: @AtlanticLab

Facebook: @atlanticlabequipment

ALE’s Superstar Interns – November 2018 Edition

ALE interns working hard to solve a difficult problem together

Internships at Atlantic Lab Equipment

Dani, Luke, and Ryan – ALE Interns 2018

Meet Ryan, Dani, and Luke. Atlantic Lab Equipment is lucky to have three talented interns working with us this semester. Two of them are sponsored by the Massachusetts Life Science Center’s Internship Challenge program. All three are here with us for the Fall 2018 semester from Endicott College in nearby Beverly, MA. We didn’t plan it that way – after interviewing many candidates these were the standouts. We’ve had great interns from Endicott College before, so they must be doing something right.

Interns have been a regular feature at Atlantic Lab Equipment for years. It’s a great way to benefit both the student and our company. For ALE, we’re busy and growing, so there’s always more work to tackle – we can use the extra hands on deck. For the students, it’s a great way to get some practical experience and exposure to the biotech business environment.

Their internships will be winding down in December, so we decided to talk with them about their experiences at ALE. Here’s what they had to say.

Ryan C. – Marketing

Ryan is a local, coming to ALE from Medford, MA. He’s majoring in Entrepreneurship at Endicott College and works with us as a Marketing Intern.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m very interested in online sales and e-commerce. I’m currently opening my own Amazon marketplace brand and I’m excited to see how it turns out. My life goal is to have financial freedom based on a passive income. I am aiming toward this passive income lifestyle because I would like to travel as much as possible, support a family, and provide a healthy home for my future children. I know there’s a lot that I have yet to see, but ALE has given me direction towards achieving my goals. ALE has helped me a lot by providing me with experience in online sales and marketing. I have attained understanding and a sense of security with e-commerce, as well as my long-term plans during my time with Mike, Phil, Clark, and Victoria.

How did you hear about the internship opportunity at ALE?

I heard about it through a website called Handshake. ALE posted that they were looking for interns and it fit my field of study.

What is your internship role and typical responsibilities?

As a marketing intern, I work with the online store, website, and the online software and data logging tool. I have three main responsibilities working with ALE: I’m in charge of making sure the inventory for the ALE Outlet has high-quality pictures for the online store. I also do some editing. This includes ensuring that the inventory items we carry are labeled correctly in our online data system. Lastly, I work with item listings, optimizing them and producing item descriptions and keyword-related titles for increasing search volume.

How does this internship experience help you in your studies and your future career?

This has helped me with my studies and my career because I learned that there is more to a business than the data, numbers, and sales. There’s also a lot that goes into making sure your employees are happy and comfortable in their environment. Healthy employees will produce a healthy business.

What’s the most (surprisingly) beneficial thing that you learned during your internship?

The most surprising thing that I have learned about ALE is the fact that there can be a healthy balance in freedom and success. When I think of most companies, I think of people barely talking at work, with their eyes locked on their computer all day. I say this because I have worked as an intern with other companies that had this type of environment. I learned that there’s a way to balance your freedom at work, in terms of clothing, conversations, and flexible hours, while still achieving the goals that we set out to accomplish daily.

What’s the best part of your experience at ALE?

The best part of my experience here at ALE is not dreading going to work in the morning. I think that this should be a goal for many people since you spend 60% of your day at work. I enjoy coming to work and I feel like it provides me with a sense of value. I feel like my decisions and actions directly affect the company, which makes me feel important.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

After graduation, I’ll be starting my own Amazon FBA (Fulfillment By Amazon) brand. I am in the starting phase right now and I hope to have my first product listed by the end of this year.

Any helpful tips for the next interns?

It’s easy to make friends with everyone here at ALE. Victoria, Phil, and Mike are wonderful to work with and they are very understanding, which I am very grateful for. Make friends with the warehouse staff, they will surely put a smile on your face. When you don’t know where something is, ask Kim, I guarantee she knows. Alex and Clark are great guys who will be there for you no matter what you are going through, both in and out of work. Finally, if you get to experience a birthday lunch at ALE and they decide to order Howling Wolf … get the Howling Wolf Burrito.

Danielle C. – Engineering

Dani is from Tujunga, CA and is studying Bioengineering at Endicott College. She’s a Service Intern working on instrumentation in the ALE Service Dept.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m fulfilling a semester-long internship here at ALE, as I prepare for life after graduation in the Spring. I’m from the greater Los Angeles area and chose to travel to school when I was 16. I went to a boarding school named The Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut where I was a tri-varsity student-athlete. After high school, Endicott College recruited me to play NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey. I played for two seasons. I’m now focusing on my future, which will hopefully entail pharmaceutical sciences one day. The opportunity given to me by ALE has provided me with real-life experiences and skills I can take with me along to any of my future jobs, not to mention the introduction it offered me to meet some amazing people along the way.

How did you hear about the internship opportunity at ALE?

Mareena, an intern last year, was my roommate and encouraged me to look into the internship here at ALE.

What is your internship role and typical responsibilities?

I’m an intern in the Service lab, working on diagnostic testing and troubleshooting for the lab equipment.

How does this internship experience help you in your studies and your future career?

This internship provides me with experience with different types of lab equipment, software, and even expands my network.

What’s the most (surprisingly) beneficial thing that you learned during your internship?

The most surprising thing I learned is not necessarily about my internship, but how Phil (ALE’s Chief Procurement Officer) and Victoria (ALE’s CEO) both studied things completely different than business management and sales yet they are thriving in this small business.

What’s the best part of your experience at ALE?

The best part of this internship is working with a close-knit group of people. I felt very welcomed at ALE. It’ss nice to know that coming to work is a friendly and even fun environment to be in.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

After I graduate, I hope to gain a little more experience in biotechnology before going back to school for pharmaceutical sciences.

Any helpful tips for the next interns?

Some helpful tips for incoming and/or future interns are to manage your time wisely, allow yourself to be patient when working on more difficult projects, and that it’s okay to double and even triple check your work to ensure the best outcome.

Luke W. – Engineering

Luke is from Pleasant Hill, CA, near San Francisco, and is majoring in Bioengineering at Endicott College. He’s also a Service Intern in the ALE Service Dept.

Tell us a little about yourself

I live about 30 minutes northeast of San Francisco in a city called Pleasant Hill. I’ve been a student at Endicott since 2015, but plan to move back to the Bay Area after graduation. I’m majoring in Bioengineering. I’ve always done best in math and science compared to other subjects such as history and English. I figured I could combine my math and science passion by studying Bioengineering at Endicott.

How did you hear about the internship opportunity at ALE?

A former classmate of mine previously interned at ALE and loved it. She was also a bioengineer and enjoyed the small company as well as the hands-on aspect of working at ALE.

What is your internship job and typical responsibilities?

My position at ALE is an Intern with the Service and Testing Lab. On a typical day, I’ll test multiple machines for Novartis and the ALE Outlet. Testing can vary from basic functions such as on/off and motor operation to diagnostics and repairs for broken equipment. After servicing a piece of equipment, I will write a service report. This will inform the sales department about the equipment, if it can be sold, and how they should list it.

How does this internship experience help you in your studies and your future career?

This internship provided me with hands-on experience for common laboratory equipment. I have knowledge of a variety of equipment types and manufacturers now. I believe hands-on experience opens many different career opportunities and will allow me to strive in the career that I choose.

What’s the most (surprisingly) beneficial thing that you learned during your internship?

Other than the knowledge I have gained on specific pieces of equipment, the most beneficial thing I’ve learned at ALE is the importance of networking and connecting with your co-workers. ALE has a tight community between its employees and I was able to make connections quickly and feel comfortable with my co-workers.

What’s the best part of your experience at ALE?

It has to be the wide variety of equipment that I get to work on. I also enjoy the supportive and friendly community between the employees of ALE. It’s great to see that the community feeling at ALE is also shared with the customers.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

I hope to become an Associate Sales Representative at a medical device company. I plan to go back to California and work near home for a year or two before finding my way to San Diego. I’m striving to work at a medical device company in San Diego, and looking forward to the future experiences that will be added to my ALE experience.

Any helpful tips for the next interns?

Work hard on each project and don’t be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone.

Massachusetts Life Science Center (MLSC) Internship Challenge Program

ALE is fortunate to be in the heart of the global biotech industry. There are many benefits that Massachusetts has to offer, and great internship opportunities are one of them. Two of ALE’s interns are supported through the Massachusetts Life Science Center’s Internship Challenge program this semester. This is a great program that helps match companies that have available internships with students looking for opportunities.
The goal of the MLSC Internship Challenge program is several-fold, providing:
  • an enlarged pool of young talent for Massachusetts biotech companies
  • more real-life experiential opportunities for students in the life sciences
  • support for the Massachusetts life science community for education and business
In addition, the program offers a stipend to help companies fund internships. We’re happy to participate in this wonderful program. It allows Atlantic Lab Equipment to offer more internship opportunities.
Thanks again to our incredible interns. We wish them lots of success in their future endeavors. And a special thanks to the MLSC for their Internship Challenge program.

9 Reasons to Outsource Your Lab Surplus Asset Management and Save Millions!

By Victoria Jackson, CEO, Atlantic Lab Equipment Inc.

At Atlantic Lab Equipment, we’re well into our second decade of providing our customers significant savings by buying and selling used lab equipment. What you may not know about ALE is that we have a well-developed surplus asset management program for larger labs and companies with a large inventory of lab equipment. Large companies may frequently purchase new equipment when the exact same model goes unused in a lab down the hall or in another building. This leads to millions of dollars in wasted budget and inefficiently used lab space annually.

1. “Obstacles are opportunities”

This statement guides the philosophy of the Hyde School in Bath, Maine, where our family sent students for years. Obstacles often look impossible at first. For example, you have a Beckman Biomek FX integrated system sprawled across your lab. You aren’t using it anymore and it’s taking up space you need for your new refurbished Tecan Freedom EVO. A problem hides an opportunity. With some coordination that FX system can be removed and save you serious bucks. Redeploy it elsewhere in the company where it’s needed or sell it and boost your budget.

2. A penny saved is a penny earned.

Efficient management of extra equipment can save you a lot of money. Your unused centrifuge may be the exact machine that the researcher upstairs needs. Re-purposing instruments can help avoid expensive capital equipment purchases. This approach offers enormous savings over buying new. And it’s a great alternative to delaying or abandoning projects because of tight lab budgets. One large pharmaceutical client of ours has saved millions of dollars in a few years with ALE’s surplus redeployment program.

3. A picture is worth a thousand words

… and potentially thousands of dollars. A private marketplace with pictures of available equipment is essential. Think of it as an eBay for your company. Atlantic Lab Equipment can help with this.

4. It ain’t easy.

Let someone else do the hard part. “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it,” my dad preaches. Managing lots of lab equipment requires time and space; something most labs lack. You need to:

  • catalog information about the instruments
  • collect and move the equipment
  • store the instruments
  • prepare the equipment for redeployment

This requires experienced people to pack, move, test, and service the equipment before re-use. This is what hinders a lot of labs from maximizing their return on idle assets. Atlantic Lab Equipment does this well.

5. Play to your strengths.

A partnership between your company and a nimble, knowledgeable surplus asset manager is powerful. ALE applies our 16+ years of knowledge and experience in the used equipment market. We manage and recondition our client’s equipment to help maximize their financial potential. Our team focuses on the flow of equipment, so your scientists and lab management can focus on the research.

6. The surplus asset management program can pay for itself.

Redeployment, sale, and scrap of unused equipment can generate positive cash flow back to our clients. If the internal marketplace listing expires before a researcher requests the instrument, ALE will buy the instrument or sell it on consignment. The redeployed assets create a stream of savings, while decommissioned assets create a revenue stream.

7. ALE can customize the surplus asset management program for your company.

ALE can help set up a surplus asset management program at your company that fits your needs. We can provide separate modules or the entire program, doing as much or as little as you would like.

  • ALE Marketplace tracking and management
  • Pick-up / Delivery
  • Moving
  • Storage
  • Redeployment services (testing, repair, installation)

We’d like to share the knowledge we’ve gained in our 16+ years of buying and selling used lab equipment to help you maximize your lab assets.

8. The secret to surplus asset management success is servicing the instruments.

Researchers feel more comfortable reusing equipment if they can be certain it works. Nobody wants a hunk of junk – even for “free”. This requires technicians to test and then fix instruments when needed. ALE has earned a reputation for providing high-quality refurbished instruments to our customers. We remove this risk by incorporating testing and service as part of the asset management workflow, and it makes all the difference.

9. Time is money.

My dad said this ALL the time! Do what you do best and let ALE manage your surplus assets.

Contact us today to learn more about ALE’s surplus asset management program and how we can help you save.

HPLC System Care and Troubleshooting Like a Boss

HPLC system care and troubleshooting is an important activity in any analytical chemistry lab. Liquid chromatography systems have become real workhorses for laboratory chemical analysis, but scientists have developed a love-hate relationship with these systems. The wide range of applications delights users, while varied complexity, robustness, and performance frustrate them. Unlike other laboratory tools, these systems are not a “plug and play” solution. There are several brands and models, but the basic operation is similar across the board. Lab technicians need some training and experience to get LC systems to perform well. This article will cover the basics of maintaining and troubleshooting your HPLC system.

HPLC Components

All liquid chromatography systems have the same four basic components – Injectors, Pumps, Columns, and Detectors. There can be other components added before, after, or inline with these items. For example:
  • Autosampler (before) – automatically feed multiple samples unattended
  • Fraction Collector (after) – collect portions of the eluent as it comes off of the column
  • Additional Detector (inline) – analyze the sample with different technologies
  • Sample Preparation Automation (before) – perform complex sample prep assays prior to HPLC separation
  • Mass Spectrometer (after) – essentially another detector, but there’s enough here to cover in a separate article
HPLC System (based on Agilent 1200 series) by Yassine Mrabet (CC 3.0)


Most pump-related issues are due to a failure to prime the system properly. Upon startup, users should always prime the pump and verify that the flow is constant on all channels. Pump-priming issues can be detrimental to chromatography results in several ways, including no flow, erratic flow, mixing problems, incorrect gradients, bubble formation, and more.
Pump Types:
  • Isocratic Pump – This is the simplest pump type. It uses a single pump to deliver a single solvent for the mobile phase.
  • Binary Pump – This pump uses two pumps and can mix up to two different solvents in varying proportions over the course of a run for gradient mobile phases.
  • Quaternary Pump – This pump uses a single pump, but has a special proportioning valve to mix up to four different solvents for complex mobile phase gradients.
Typical Binary Pump (Agilent 1200 Series)
Typical Quaternary Pump (Agilent 1100 Series)

What’s Wrong with my HPLC?!?!? … Troubleshooting the Chromatogram

No Signal

  • Injector Failure – Sample is not introduced to the flow path. Check injector. Clean if it’s clogged. Repair if malfunctioning. If you’re using an autosampler, check to see if it’s aspirating sample successfully – bypass the autosampler and manually inject sample to see if it’s the problem.
  • Pump Failure – Mobile phase not flowing. Check/repair pump.
  • Detector Failure – Check/adjust detector settings (gain, sensitivity). Check/replace the lamp.
  • Column Issues – Sample is binding to the column and not eluting – change separation column and/or guard column type.
  • Solvent Issues – Sample is incompatible with mobile phase, or mobile phase is not compatible with column – change mobile phase solvent.


  • Solvent Issues (evaporation/concentration changing, atmospheric gas absorption/pH changing, leaks) – De-gas and sparge solvent with an inert gas. Seal solvent containers. Check for and repair leaks (tubing, fittings).
  • Gradient Issues (one solvent absorbs/retains more of the sample than other) – Change one or both mobile phase solvents. Employ baseline subtraction.
  • Contaminated Column – Flush column with solvent. Change column type to avoid build up and slow release.
  • Pressure Issues – Filter mobile phase and samples. Reduce sample or solvent viscosity. Use larger tubing.
  • Temperature Issues – Look for changing temperature over the run. Control temperature in the detector flow cell.

Cyclic Variations

  • Temperature Issues – Stabilize environmental control. Check for effects from the HVAC system or other nearby equipment that throws off heat or cooling. Control temperature in the detector flow cell.
  • Bubbles / Mixing Issues (in the pump) – Flush and prime pump. De-gas mobile phase. Increase system volume.
  • Clogs (partial) – Remove clog. Replace tubing. Flush with solvent.
  • Pump Issues – Repair or replace the pump.
  • Electrical Noise – Look for and remove sources of interference with a cyclical pattern. Change circuit. Install line conditioner.

Baseline Noise

  • Bubbles (in the mobile phase, column, or detector) – Check for and repair leaks (tubing, fittings). De-gas mobile phase. Flush or backpressure detector cell or column to removed trapped bubbles.
  • Contaminated Column – Flush column with solvent. Change the column.
  • Electrical Noise – Check connections. Look for and remove sources of interference. Clean contacts. Shield cables. Change circuit. Install line conditioner.
  • Detector Issues – Flush detector cell using manufacturer’s cleaning protocol. Adjust sensitivity/gain. Replace the lamp.


  • Bubbles – Check for and repair leaks (tubing, fittings). De-gas mobile phase.
  • Electrical Wiring Issues – Check wiring, leads, and connectors. Repair or replace broken wiring or connectors. Clean connectors and leads.
  • Electrical Noise – Check connections. Look for and remove sources of interference with a sharp, intermittent pattern (valves, compressors, lighting). Clean contacts. Shield cables. Change the power circuit. Install line conditioner.
  • Detector Issues – Check and replace the lamp.

Synchronous Noise

  • Bubbles / Mixing Issues (in the pump) – Flush and prime pump. De-gas mobile phase. Increase system volume.
  • Pump Issues – Repair or replace the check valve. Repair or replace the pump plunger or seals. Check for and repair leaks.
  • Electrical Noise – Look for and remove sources of interference with a cyclical pattern. Change circuit. Install line conditioner.

Asynchronous Noise

  • Bubbles / Mixing Issues – Check for and repair leaks (tubing, fittings). De-gas mobile phase. Flush or backpressure detector cell or column to removed trapped bubbles. Increase system volume.
  • Clogs (partial) – Remove clog. Replace tubing. Flush with solvent.
  • Electrical Noise – Check connections. Look for and remove sources of interference with an intermittent pattern. Clean contacts. Shield cables. Change circuit. Install line conditioner.

Positive and Negative Peaks or Only Negative Peaks

  • No Issues – Negative peaks may be normal if you’re using a refractive index detector – no changes.
  • Solvent Issues – Filter solvent. Change to different solvent.
  • Bubbles – De-gas mobile phase.
  • Only Negative Peaks – Change detector polarity.


Injectors transfer your sample from the source vial or plate into the LC system flow path. Once introduced, the sample flows through the column to the detector(s) and out to the waste. Once again, improper priming can be the main cause of issues relating to the injector. Any air present in the system can affect the injection volume and cleanliness. Priming the system properly removes air bubbles from the sample and wash syringes. This will improve the system reproducibility and reduce sample carryover.


Maintaining your separation column is critical for your LC system. This is the heart of the system. This component enables the separation of constituents in your sample. Problems with your column will translate directly to your results. Refer to your column’s documentation for appropriate wash and storage solvents to use. Always flush the column after runs with a compatible organic solvent.
Failure to clean your column will impact column life and performance. This is especially important if you plan to store the column for an extended period. Replace your column if the packing material has become contaminated or ineffective. Run a test standard through the system regularly to track changing column performance.


There are many detector types and models available for LC systems. But, detector maintenance is a simple procedure that’s common across types. You need to know the back pressure your detector flow cell generates at a known flow rate for a solvent. This will create a baseline for you when troubleshooting the system. You can use this value to gauge system readiness.
To do this:
  1. Record the pressure while flushing solvent through the detector (D).
  2. Remove the inlet line to the detector and record the pressure again while flushing (C).
  3. Subtract C from D.
This is important because the most common issue with detectors is a clogged flow cell. If the flow cell is partially plugged, the pressure will be much greater at the detector inlet. The flow cell can rupture if completely plugged, resulting in an expensive repair. To maintain the flow cell, always flush with a clean solvent that is at least 20% organic. This will help maintain the flow cell and keep it clean and free of blockages.

Fittings & Tubing

Improper connection of tubing in fittings can also have an impact on results. A common error is to leave a void at the end of the tubing inside of the fitting. It’s important to seat the tubing flush to the end of the fitting.
LC tubing size can have a tremendous impact on chromatographic results. When replacing tubing, make sure to use the correct sizes. If the tubing internal diameter (ID) is too big it will cause peak shape issues. Peaks will become wider (and shorter with larger tubing). If the tubing is too long or too narrow, it will generate higher pressures and can also cause peak issues.

Mobile Phase (The Lifeblood of the System)

The mobile phase is the solvent that carries your sample through the HPLC system. This can be water, an aqueous buffer solution, or an organic solvent or mixture. You can use an isocratic mobile phase – a single solvent at a constant concentration. Or you can use a gradient mobile phase – two or more solvents at changing ratios over time. The majority of HPLC issues originate from mobile phase problems.
To fix these issues, follow these suggestions:
  • Start with fresh HPLC grade solvents. If using water, get it from an HPLC-grade purification system.
  • Filter the mobile phase using a 0.2-micron filter.
  • De-gas the solvents well before use.
  • Never add more solvent to open bottles; replace them when empty.
  • Bacteria can grow in pure water; be careful to use fresh, filtered water.
  • Use a 10-20% organic solvent/water mixture to inhibit bacteria growth for storage.

Maintaining Your Equipment – Shameless Plugs

Of all of the types of lab equipment, HPLC systems tend to be the most DIY-friendly for maintenance – and their owners tend to be pretty skilled as well. It comes with the territory. Not every problem is easy to solve and regular preventative maintenance service is important for continued performance. Atlantic Lab Equipment would be happy to work with you to help with your yearly PM services. Also, if you have equipment that’s no longer used, we’ll buy your surplus lab equipment. Of course, if you’re looking to expand, or get a backup 0f your favorite system, we provide high-quality refurbished equipment.
Please feel free to check out what we have to offer:

How to Earn the Most Value Selling Your Surplus Lab Equipment

Selling your surplus lab equipment can be a great way to clear up space and return some funds to your lab budget. Our last article was about buying refurbished lab equipment, but we did touch upon selling unused equipment as well. Today we’ll expand on that topic and provide you with some tools to get the most out of selling your instruments to a lab equipment reseller.

Where to Sell Your Lab Equipment

There are several different ways to sell your surplus lab instruments. First, you need to decide if you’re going to take the DIY route or work with a reseller. The trade-off is between time, effort, risk, and money. There is a possibility to earn more for your used lab instruments if you sell them yourself. But this can be time-consuming and might be risky for you and/or your company. And, it may take a long time to sell the system and make your money (for your lab, of course). Working with a reseller is easier since they will do all the work, and pay you right away.

Partnering with a Professional Lab Equipment Reseller

Option #1 – Consignment Sale (We Sell Your Stuff)

If you have some time on your hands, then a consignment sale could be a good option for you. A consignment sale might yield the best price if you’re willing to wait for the right buyer to come along. In this scenario, the reseller doesn’t take ownership of your system but works to sell the system on your behalf.

Once the reseller sells and delivers your lab equipment, you will receive your share of the sale. In a consignment sale, the equipment owner and reseller split the profit. Any direct costs (such as testing and refurbishment) are deducted from the selling price before calculating the split. It’s hard to predict how long it will take to sell your lab instrument. Age, desirability, and price will factor into this timing. The advantage can be that you may earn a bigger return by taking advantage of the reseller’s relationships, marketing capabilities, and service abilities (if you elect to refurbish your instrument to get even more value out of it).

Option #2 – Direct Sale (We Buy Your Stuff, Then Sell It)

The direct sale is the simplest option and one of the quickest to get paid. The reseller will provide you with a quote for your lab equipment. If you accept the offer, they will pay you and take the equipment away. Transaction complete. You have your funds and some new open lab space. It’s now up to the reseller to market, test, and refurbish your system to sell it.

The biggest trade-off is that the reseller may make you an offer for only what they think can sell. There may be certain pieces of equipment that they may not want. Some items may be too old or broken and not worth fixing, for example. Although, if you are trying to get rid of a lot of lab equipment, you could negotiate a price for the reseller to take it all away and have them sort it out later. The advantages of this approach are convenience and accomplishment. The reseller will take care of almost everything for you (except decontamination), and pay you upon taking ownership of the equipment.

Option #3 – Auction (We Sell Your Stuff One Day, Along With a Bunch of Other Stuff)

The auction is another way to sell your lab equipment. Since you’ll know the date of the auction, the timeframe for payment is well defined. The auction might be a good way to quickly sell a lot of equipment or a mixture of equipment. For example, for a lab that will close or move because of a company restructuring or acquisition.

The trade-off for this quick timeline and bulk approach comes in the form of lower prices. Most equipment in an auction is sold as-is. Since the buyer is bearing more of the risk, they like to offset this by getting a lower price. Although, this isn’t always the case. Some popular pieces of equipment can fetch premium prices at auction, especially if a bidding war erupts.

Once the auction completes, you’ll receive a share of the auction price. The auction house receives the remaining share plus a buyer’s fee and handling fees. The buyer’s fee is around 15-20% of auction price and is paid by the buyer on top of the auction price. Buyers factor in this fee when they bid to ensure that they don’t pay more than they want for an item. The advantages of the auction are that there’s a deadline for the sale, you can sell a large mix of equipment at once, and you know when you’ll be paid. But, in order to sell the items quickly, you’ll end up leaving the price to the bidders.

Handling It on Your Own

DIY Option – Sell It Online (Not As Simple As It Sounds)

eBay and LabX are two well-known sites for selling equipment. It’s easy to set up an account to list your system … and then you’re ready to sell. However, unless your company already has an active eBay account, you’ll be starting from scratch. Your eBay seller rating and history are an important factor for many buyers. If you’re going to open a new account to sell those few pieces of equipment, you won’t have any track record.

You’ll also need to plan on devoting some time to monitoring and replying. eBay buyers expect prompt service, or you’ll take a hit in your seller ratings. Be prepared to check your listings and answer questions at least a couple of times per day. The biggest hurdle will be payment processing. PayPal is the most used method for accepting payments on eBay. If your company has a PayPal account that can be used, then great. If not, then you probably want to think twice about using a personal account. Scams are common on eBay and the tax implications are unclear. You could leave yourself exposed to liability. With LabX, the customer would pay the company directly with a check or wire transfer.

With the DIY option, it’s up to you to handle all the “customer support” for your potential buyers. This includes answering questions promptly, pricing, handling payment, and packing and shipping. If anything goes wrong in this process, then you’re the one who must address it.

What will you do if something is damaged in shipping? How do you address a claim from the buyer that the instrument doesn’t work? (I know it was working before we packed it up). The responsibility will fall on you. You might have to pay for on-site service. With no service contract or warranty, parts, labor, and travel expenses can add up. Or, you might have to take the instrument back and refund the buyer. Now you’ll have to pay the actual cost of shipping the system both ways with no payment to offset those costs. And, shipping large lab instruments can be very expensive. The advantage of the DIY approach is that you get to keep (almost) the full amount of the sale. Although, eBay and PayPal will take their share.

How to Prepare for Selling Your Surplus Lab Equipment

Once you’ve chosen a sales channel and a lab equipment reseller, you need to get your surplus lab equipment ready for sale. The reseller will arrange to pick up your equipment and ship it back to their warehouse or service center. It’s important to make these preparations to for two reasons:

  1. To maximize the value of your system and
  2. To minimize delays for the reseller to offer the system for sale (and pay you)

There are three basic steps to preparing your equipment for sale:

  1. Collecting
  2. Cleaning & Decontamination
  3. Documenting

To help, we’ve provided a handy Seller’s Checklist form that outlines all of the things you need to think about when preparing your lab equipment for the reseller or buyer.


Collect all the pieces of the system that go together. This is simple if your instrument is a single unit, like a plate washer. But, something like an LC/MS system may have many components. And, if one is missing it could render the system useless. This is not the time to raid the system for “all the good stuff.” It’s tempting to want to pick over a system that has one foot out the door. But, the reseller may no longer want what’s left because it will be too costly or difficult to replace the missing items, and buyers wouldn’t be interested without them.

Make sure all the cables and connectors are present (and labeled). Some systems use proprietary cables that are difficult or expensive to get if missing. Look out for dongles (also known as hard locks, or hardware license keys) in particular. These small devices plug-in to a USB port and enable access to the software. If a system requires a dongle and it’s missing, progress will come to a complete stop with your sale. Two-gallon Ziploc® Freezer Bags are a great way to collect and organize cables, dongles, and small accessories to keep them with the system.

If your system uses an external control computer, it should go with the system. Don’t forget the keyboard, mouse, and display. Some instruments are picky about the computer that controls them. You might think it would great to pop a fast, new computer on that old instrument. But, you could easily run into communications problems. The computer might actually be “too fast” or the system software may not be compatible with the new operating system. It’s much better to supply the original, matched equipment.

Cleaning & Decontamination

It’s a good idea to give your system a general dusting and wipe down. But, if it’s been in contact with infectious, toxic/carcinogenic, or radioactive contaminants, then it will also need decontamination. Typically, a 10% bleach solution is for biological, an appropriate solvent for chemical, and something like Radiacwash™ for radioactive decontamination. Multiple methods willYou should consult your health and safety procedures for this, though. It’s the owner’s responsibility to decontaminate the system before the reseller touches it. The owner must also provide a certificate of decontamination to the reseller. Decontamination is important to protect the safety of both company’s employees. We provide a Certificate of Decontamination form that you can use.

“Cleaning” also applies to your data. Make sure to remove any proprietary or protected data from the system. It’s tempting to “wipe” the computer clean, but a blank computer would prevent the reseller from running the system to test it or refurbish it. Selective deletion/cleanup according to the manufacturer’s instructions is the preferred method. Make a note of the admin usernames and passwords needed to access the control computer and system software. If personal accounts were used on the system, then before shutting the system down, create new generic admin and user accounts. This will allow the reseller to operate and access the system without using employee’s personal logins.


The more information that a reseller can have about the lab equipment you’re selling, the better. Understanding what you are selling, it’s true condition, and history will help the reseller to give you an accurate appraisal. It’s never fun to discover undisclosed information about a system once it’s at the resellers. That could reduce its value. List the manufacturer, model, and serial number of each component. Also list everything that’s going with the instrument, like accessories, parts, or consumables. Provide the software licenses and keys. This is critical. Most modern lab equipment runs on sophisticated software. Without the ability to reload and configure the software, the system may have little value. Providing the original invoice or packing slip and/or the service history of the system is also helpful.

Shameless Plugs

Let Atlantic Lab Equipment Help You With Your Surplus Equipment

As a full-service reseller, Atlantic Lab Equipment would love to talk with you about your idle lab instruments. After 16 years, we are experts at evaluating your surplus equipment to maximize the return on your investment. Often we find that a combination of channels may be the best solution and we can help you decide the best approach based on your specific needs. We can put your most valuable assets on consignment, buy a bunch of other ones direct, and help arrange an auction for you too. In addition, if you elect to swap your equipment for something we have, extra discounts are available. Or, perhaps, you should repurpose some of your assets internally – we can help you with that too. Please call us at 866-484-6031 today to get started or use the Request a Quote form on our website. Our full-time job is helping labs save money with refurbished lab instruments and we are here for you.

6 Myths About Buying Refurbished Lab Equipment

Buying used or refurbished lab equipment is a great way to save money on advanced laboratory instrumentation. Savings of 40% to 60% are common compared to purchasing the same equipment new. Some people may be tentative about buying pre-owned equipment, afraid that they will get a lemon. So, we want to address some of the most common misunderstandings. Let’s take a look.

Myth #1: Refurbished Lab Equipment and Used Lab Equipment Is All the Same Old Stuff

Many people use the terms “used” and “refurbished” interchangeably. “Used”, “pre-owned”, “as-is”, and “secondhand” mean someone else owned the equipment before you. It says nothing about the condition of the equipment. “Refurbished” or “reconditioned” lab equipment is also “used” lab equipment. But, it’s used lab equipment that is serviced and tested to meet the manufacturer’s standards. The seller may also offer a warranty or service contract for the equipment.
Understanding the difference between “used” and “refurbished” scientific instruments is important. There are many sellers that sell used equipment. But, there are fewer that invest in the expertise to test, diagnose, and repair sophisticated scientific instrumentation. You may pay a little more for a refurbished lab instrument, but your risk will be much lower.
This doesn’t mean that refurbished equipment is good and used equipment is bad. Be aware of what you’re buying and make sure that you understand the risks. Even refurbished equipment resellers sell some equipment as “used” or “as-is.” Depending on the type of equipment, selling it as used might be very appropriate. Good examples are small equipment like vortexers and water baths. For these types of items, you’ll want to use a reseller that has a good return policy.

Myth #2: Refurbished Lab Equipment Is Not as Good as New Lab Equipment

Lab instrument manufacturers have been making great, reliable equipment for decades. Most equipment has a very long service life, even at high duty cycles. For most applications, even previous instrument versions will meet the lab’s needs, perform well, and last for years. New equipment may offer some advantages, though. Your application might need a particular feature that only the new technology offers. Or, if you’re pushing into new areas of research, then only the newest generation may have the detection limits or capacity that you need. A manufacturer’s new system might only differ minimally from the previous generation.

Myth #3: Service and Support Are Not Available for Refurbished Lab Equipment

This is an important consideration when buying refurbished equipment. You should plan on maintaining your valuable equipment to keep it performing well. Today, labs have many options for servicing their lab equipment. You should consider both regular maintenance and emergency repairs. If you’re working with a reputable, full-service reseller they might offer service for the instruments they sell. Another option is a third-party service company. These are larger firms that compete with equipment manufacturers for service business. They support many types of equipment from different manufacturers and have established themselves as great alternatives. There are also smaller “boutique” service providers and individuals who have struck out on their own.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that manufacturers will not support refurbished instruments. While in some rare cases this is true, manufacturers do understand that once you have one of their instruments, you’re their customer too. They know that if you’re a happy user of their platform, the likelihood of you buying from them in the future is high. For this reason, you can generally get service and support from manufacturers. However, you should do your due diligence in this area. If you’d like support from the manufacturer, it’s best to contact them and make arrangements ahead of time. This will avoid nasty surprises after purchasing the equipment. Keep in mind that there may be some added expenses from the manufacturer. You may need to pay recertification, reinstallation, and/or software license fees.

Myth #4: You Never Know What You’re Getting with Refurbished Lab Equipment. People Only Sell Their Defective Junk Equipment

Dealing with broken lab equipment doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’re not that interested in investing a lot of expensive time and parts to resurrect a junker. Reputable refurbished equipment sellers want to buy and sell the best quality equipment. We love it when instruments, even when heavily used, were well maintained and under service contracts. This is reflected in the value we assign and the amount that we pay you. There are many reasons why a lab chooses to sell equipment, and “broken” makes up a very small part. Here are a few:
  • The instrument has reached the end of its “financial life” and finance wants it off the books
  • The objectives of the department or project have changed. That type of lab equipment is no longer needed
  • A newer version of the lab instrument was purchased and the old one is no longer used
  • The lab equipment was the “pet project” of an employee that moved on. Remaining colleagues don’t have the interest or expertise to continue its use
  • The company outsourced the service provided by that instrument
  • The company restructured the lab due to acquisition or downsizing
  • The lab moved
  • The company liquidated the lab’s assets

Myth #5: Refurbished Equipment Is Only for Startups and Academic Labs

Small companies and grant-funded labs may seem like they are perpetually budget constrained. Of course, saving with refurbished lab equipment is a great way to make room in your budget. Being part of a large company doesn’t mean a lab has an unlimited budget. Like the saying, “all politics are local politics”, it also feels like “all budgets are department budgets.” If you have finite funds to accomplish your lab’s goals, then selectively buying refurbished lab equipment can help stretch that budget further and allow you to do more.
If you’re purchasing several new pieces, look at your needs on an instrument by instrument basis. Buying one or more refurbished instruments might allow you to spend more in another area. Or, you may save enough to buy an important instrument sooner, rather than waiting for the next budget cycle.

Myth #6: Refurbished Equipment Sellers Can’t Help Me If I’m Buying New Equipment

There are a couple of ways that refurbished lab equipment sellers can help when you are buying something new. Are you trading up and buying the next generation of an instrument you already have in the lab? If you aren’t going to keep the old instrument, then a refurbished equipment seller may be able to give you a better “trade-in” deal than the manufacturer. Equipment manufacturers don’t like trade-ins. Sometimes they are necessary but tend to offer low or token discounts. Selling the old instrument to a seller may return more to you than the manufacturer’s trade-in discount. This is especially true when the new lab instrument is from a different company. Manufacturers don’t like trade-ins, but they REALLY don’t like trade-ins of their competitor’s instruments. This is a perfect opportunity to sell the equipment to a seller. In fact, this is a great time to look around the lab and see what else you may not be using and sell that too. This is a nice way to extend your budget and do a little lab cleaning as well.

Factors to Consider in Finding the Right Refurbished Lab Equipment Seller

Longevity How long have they been in business? What do your colleagues know about them?
Expertise – Does the seller have a specialization in the type of equipment that you are purchasing? Do they have the staff with domain knowledge to support that equipment?
Services offered – Do they only buy and sell equipment? Do they test and recondition equipment themselves or use partners? Do they offer other more advanced services, like application development or asset management?
Policies – Do they offer warranties and service contracts? What’s their return policy for used / as-is equipment?
Ask a lot of questions – you want to find a seller that has great customer service. They shouldn’t be afraid to address any topic with you. It should be clear what the seller will provide, and you should understand what you need to arrange for.

Shameless Plugs

It’s no coincidence that this is our business. Of course, Atlantic Lab Equipment would be happy to work with you to buy your surplus lab equipment or provide refurbished equipment. Please feel free to check out what we have to offer:

How to Handle Your Liquid Handler – Caring for Your Lab Automation

Like Having Another Person in the Lab

Your liquid handler is a marvel of modern engineering. These helpful systems can relieve lab employees of most sample processing tasks. Benefits include increased productivity, fewer errors, reduced injuries, and less boredom. This all leads to lower turnover for lab personnel and reduced costs for the lab. These improvements can be so significant that these robots become the focus of the lab. The love is so strong that many labs even give their liquid handlers names and personalities! (At one company, liquid handling systems were named after the divas – Whitney, Celine, Christina, and Brittney! At another, names were Lord of the Rings themed.)

We appreciate these machines for the work and support they offer our laboratories. But, made of metal and plastic, it’s easy to forget they need proper care, much like their human counterparts. We see the same story time after time:

  1. a new robot enters the lab
  2. production ramps up due to the increased capacity
  3. weeks turn into months and everyone is happy
  4. then … the liquid handler performance drops

What can you do to set up your system for success?

Regular maintenance and yearly service will keep your liquid handler performing well

Loss of pipetting performance (lower accuracy and precision) is bad enough. But in extreme cases, performance issues can completely shut down a lab. You can avoid this terrible situation. Nobody wants to be “down.” Regular preventative care (by you) and annual service (by the pros) will keep your robot in great shape. Proper care and feeding boil down to a few common-sense tactics:

  • Establish a maintenance plan (and follow it)
  • Keep your system clean (inside and out)
  • Make sure your connections are air-tight
  • Use the correct / high-quality materials – liquids / reagents, consumables, and parts
  • Have an annual preventative maintenance service

Care of the liquid system – the heart of the liquid handler

Some very advanced technology goes into modern lab automation systems, including:

  • Precision motion control
  • Air and liquid-based dispensing
  • Liquid level sensing
  • Sample tracking
  • Safety features
  • Device integration and communications

Although, a simple view of a liquid handler is: pumps, moved by motors, connected by tubing to pipette tips. Each of these basic elements has their own potential for failure. Knowledge of how they function will help us prevent problems and keep the system running. Most liquid handling systems have at least two sets of pumps: a fast pump and syringes.

The large volume, fast wash pump

Fast wash pump from a Tecan system (seen under the robot deck)

The fast pump also called a wash pump, is for moving large amounts of liquid. The fast pump can be a piston pump, diaphragm pump, or peristaltic pump. The fast/wash pump generally supplies water for washing the system out. These pumps can also supply buffer or other liquids for filling large volumes. This happens with lower precision than syringe pumps, but much faster.

Something has grown inside of this wash tubing! Not good for system performance and could also affect experiments.

To pass the original manufacturer’s testing, the fast pump must be able to meet a specific flow rate. This is a large volume in a set amount of time; 1600 µL per second for example. In most cases, there is a large margin of safety in this specification. A good pump and tubing should have no problem moving 150% of this required rate. If the source lines become clogged, worn, or leaky, the flow rate can plummet. You can flush the tubing lines with distilled water, and even replace the tubing if it becomes too fouled. You may be able to clean the tubing with a cleaning agent. The manufacturer may have recommendations for solutions and procedures to use for cleaning. But, if the pump is the source of the problem, then replacing the entire pump assembly is more cost effective than repairing it.

The precision pipetting system – syringes

Syringe (Dilutor) Pumps and Valves from a Tecen System

The syringe pumps are for delivering more precise volumes. Syringes are smaller piston pumps that can dispense volumes from <1 µL to 10 mL or so. These pumps are best utilized in steps requiring smaller or more controlled volumes. Also, syringes can aspirate liquid from one container and dispense into another, while fast pumps are usually one-way – only dispensing liquids. The accuracy and precision requirements for syringes depends on their capacity. A smaller syringe, say 500 µL, will have a stricter accuracy and precision specification than a larger syringe, like 10 mL. The manufacturer will factory test the syringes using either colorimetric or gravimetric methods. As with the fast pump unit, it’s most effective to replace the entire syringe if one becomes faulty.

The best maintenance task for fast pumps and syringes is a distilled water system flush. Liberal flushing of the system will rinse away corrosive liquids and solid particles. There is no danger in doing this often. It’s recommended to perform a flush each time the system has completed handling biological fluids or reagents. Also, if the system has been sitting unused for a while, a system flush will help to keep it from deteriorating.

Consistency is key with all maintenance procedures. Many labs create log books to document these steps with signatures, times, and dates. Most active labs will keep the liquid handling robots busy, and regular use is good for these systems. But, intermittent robot users should be extra vigilant about keeping the system clean with regular flushes.

Leaks and Clogs

Obstructions and leaks are the #1 problem to avoid on pipetting systems. Leaks can be problematic because they may not be visible on liquid handlers. We tend to think of leaks as dripping liquid OUT of the system. This can and does happen, but you may be more likely to encounter leaks that let air INTO the system. Leaks and clogs affect the pipetting pressures, which kills accuracy and precision. Manufacturers design their systems to resist leaks and clogs, but they are common.

Leaks – running an (air-)tight ship

Bubbles are visible in this tubing, indicating there may be a leak in the line.

While very rare in a properly assembled liquid handler, leaks can happen and are most common at the connections. The pressure inside a system’s tubing changes during operation. This expansion and contraction can loosen connections over time. You should be especially concerned about the “finger-tight” connections between diluters and valves. These can loosen over time. While a puddle is the most obvious sign, visible bubbles in any of the system’s lines is also a good sign that there is a leak. Even tiny leaks can have a large effect on the accuracy and precision of the liquid handler. The pipetting action depends on the liquid column to provide a capillary force. Trace the flow of liquid from the source and look for where the bubbles originate. Then ensure all connections from there are tight. This should fix the problem. But the tubing will need replacement if leaks continue to appear.

Clogs – keeping the openings clear

The likeliest place for a clog to occur is in the smallest openings: a diluter, a syringe, or pipette tip itself. Diluters are valves that switch liquid flow between the pump and the syringes. Regular flushes are your go-to maintenance tactic. But, the next best way to keep these openings clear is to use only approved materials for your system. This includes reagents, systems liquids, consumables, and parts. Using incorrect or low-quality materials can cause buildup in or degradation of the system’s liquid path.

For example, most of the tubing on the liquid handler is durable PVC. This is an excellent tubing material for most applications. But it’s incompatible with certain reagents. For example, using a system liquid like DMSO will quickly degrade the tubing and cause leaks. Planning with a trained application engineer can help reduce the risk of this. In some cases, you can use an alternate tubing material like PEEK, that is resistant to the solvent. In other cases, you can try to avoid contact of the materials with the incompatible parts of the system.

The end of the line – leaks or clogs at the tips

Disposable tip adapters, showing one adapter that is not fully tightened. This can cause leaks.

Leaks or clogs will occur with both fixed and disposable tip systems. Fixed, washable tips are often for procedures that call for low volume transfers. Since these tips are thin metal tubes, they can become bent (obstructed) or cracked (leak) if damaged in a crash. Proper software scripting and consideration during protocol development can reduce this risk.

Disposable tips are less likely to clog, but leaks can form if the tips are not seated well on the tip adapter. Improper setup of the system or the use of low-quality tips can cause this leak. Both conditions are preventable. Professional service during installation or maintenance can solve the setup problem. And careful selection and validation of tip vendors will avoid the seating issue.

One other source of leaks is where the fixed tip or disposable tip adapter inserts into the tubing. Both fixed and disposable pipette tips depend on this connection to be air-tight. This is not a common point of failure, but the improper initial setup of the system can cause leakage over time.

The hard(ware) part of the system – easy to maintain

This is the rail that the pipetting arm rides on showing the bearing on the arm. This just needs to be kept clean and (lightly) lubricated with mfg approved grease.

We’ve spent most of the time discussing how to avoid or solve problems with the pipetting part of the system. With good reason, this is the critical part that affects results most. We can’t ignore the rest of the system, though. In general, the liquid handling part of the system is the most error-prone. But, the rest of the system hardware requires some TLC as well to keep it in tip-top shape. Movement is an important part of the system. Most liquid handling robots have arms controlled by motors mounted on wheels/bearings. This arm usually runs along a track or rail covered in lubricating grease. This grease can gather dust and debris which will cause performance issues. If the wheels/bearings become fouled, they could bind or skip and cause motor errors or inaccurate movements. You can care for this yourself, as follows:

  • wipe away the contaminated residue with an alcohol solution
  • replace the lubricant with a small amount of clean (manufacturer qualified) grease

The Annual Preventive Maintenance Service

Yearly maintenance by a trained service engineer is important for a healthy liquid handler. A typical annual preventative maintenance (PM) service will include at least the following:

  • replacement of all the system liquid tubing for syringes and fast wash pumps
  • inspection/replacement of worn syringes and diluter valves
  • inspection/replacement of worn pipettes tips and tip adapters
  • inspection/cleaning/lubrication of moving parts
  • calibration of movement

PM visits are available as pay-as-you-go services or can be parts of a yearly service contract. Annual service contracts usually also include emergency service coverage. You’ll need to determine the best approach for your lab based on your usage of your lab automation system. If it’s a critical part of keeping your lab running, then you may want to consider a service contract. The cost of lost productivity from downtime can far outweigh the price of a service contract.

Atlantic Lab Equipment is ready to help you find a system that is best suited for your lab’s needs. We can also provide ongoing support for your newest team member! With proper installation and annual maintenance by a service professional, and weekly and monthly maintenance by your lab staff, a liquid handling robot will provide a very real return on investment for many years.


ALE Hosts Successful Donation Day In February

Donation Day – Two Years of Giving

Donation Day shoppers from local schools shopping for free lab equipment
Atlantic Lab Equipment hosted a Donation Day in February. This marks the second year of the company’s give back program. ALE’s Donation Day invites local schools to pick out free, used laboratory equipment. The donations go to small schools and non-profit institutes – usually local high schools and colleges. Some of the most recent beneficiaries include:

The Origin

Founder and CEO, Victoria Jackson, started Donation Days two years ago after buying a large amount of lab equipment from Dupont. Dupont closed its experimental station in Delaware, selling everything in the labs. “We started Donation Days to clear out some of our smaller lab items, but it has grown into a great way for us to give back to the community,” said Jackson. “We are particularly happy that students in local schools learn from the donated equipment. It would be great if some of those students find their passion and go on to careers in the sciences.” The program is now a regular event at the company. Donation Days occur about three to four times per year at the company’s Salem, MA facilities.

Why Donate?

Collection of lab equipment getting ready for the next Donation Day back in the ALE warehouse
Of course, Atlantic Lab Equipment’s business is selling used and refurbished lab equipment. ALE has an active eBay store – the ALE Outlet – where small lab equipment like these sell at discounted prices. So why donate these items at all? There are a few reasons lab equipment can end up on the donation rack. First, the donated items must be in good working order. But lab items that we have too many of, or are a bit “vintage”, or may have cosmetic blemishes, would be up for donation.
The events are invitation only. Invitees can claim the items in person on the day of the event. It’s first-come, first-served, but there’s usually plenty of useful equipment to go around. Is your school is in the Greater Boston area? Would you like to hear about upcoming Donation Days? If so, contact Atlantic Lab Equipment at to apply.