How to Buy Liquid Handling Technology


Liquid handling options span the range from simple or automated pipettes to room-sized multifunctional workstations. Consequently, choosing the right equipment for your requirements can be challenging.

In this guide, learn about the key technologies, important considerations, different applications and the future of liquid handling.

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Precise and accurate delivery of samples and reagents is fundamental for many sensitive techniques employed in today’s laboratories. Liquid handling devices draw in (aspirate) a given volume of liquid from a source container and deliver (dispense) this liquid to the destination container once it has been appropriately re-positioned. The fluid being transferred, often referred to as the sample fluid, is frequently held in tips. These tips can either be permanent features of the liquid handler or disposable pieces.

Advancements in technology have resulted in the evolution of liquid transfer solutions, from the dispensing of sample fluid from an individual tip to large-scale automated liquid handling involving many tips, channels, robots and large workstations. Aspiration and dispensing of sample fluid is typically carried out in the microliter, milliliter and nanoliter range. However, it is now also possible to dispense volumes in the picoliter range, and femtoliter dispensing may be possible for microarray applications in the future.


Table 1: Technique Optimizations of Liquid Handling Technology



Pharmaceutical – Discovery & Development

ADME Screening


Cell Based Assays


High Content Screening

High Throughput Screening

Imaging- Fluorescence / Microscopy

Mass Spectrometry

Next Generation Sequencing


Protein Purification / Crystallization

Solid-Phase Extraction

Clinical Diagnostics / Forensics Blood Analysis

Blood Analysis


Mass Spectrometry

Next Generation Sequencing


Molecular Biology / Basic Research Chromatography

Cell Based Assays


Nucleic Acid Preparation

Protein Purification / Crystallization


Analytical Chemistry (Forensics, Food & Beverage, Environmental, Material Science, Pharmaceutical)


Mass Spectrometry

Next Generation Sequencing



Solid-Phase Extraction



Automation has revolutionized the speed of scientific development, providing greater reproducibility and a saving of time and laboratory resources. While every automated liquid handling experiment is unique, for example in terms of throughput, reagents, volumes, order of addition and readout, there are several features that are central to all liquid handling technologies. 

Key Pipetting Technology

Pipettes have long been used for the accurate handling of liquids in scientific research and development. The introduction of automatic pipetting devices has revolutionized liquid handling procedures in the laboratory, and they offer many advantages over traditional glass pipettes including improved reproducibility, speed, safety and ease of use. A considerable variety of pipettes are currently on the market, ranging from the fixed-volume, single-channel, manually operated pipettes to the latest electronic multi-channel instruments with fixed- or variable-volume settings. The majority of pipettes function according to one of two dispensing principles:

In air-displacement pipettes, which are used for standard applications, a ‘piston’ (see section on ‘fluid drive technology’ below) creates the suction necessary to draw the sample fluid into a disposable tip. The influences of temperature, air pressure and humidity must be minimized with an air-displacement pipette through design measures to ensure the dispensing accuracy is not impaired.

Air-displacement pipettes are commonly found in standard laboratories and are designed for general laboratory procedures.

In positive displacement pipettes, which are often used for applications requiring greater accuracy, sample fluid is delivered by means of a syringe-like system in the pipette tip. In these pipettes, the piston and sample are in direct contact, enabling a high level of accuracy and reproducibility, and minimal liquid carryover. As the piston is a disposable part of the pipette tip, the risk of cross contamination is eliminated.

Positive displacement pipettes are commonly used for liquids with too high a vapor pressure, viscosity or density to be displaced accurately by air, as well as volatile, radioactive or corrosive samples. These devices are also suitable for applications, such as PCR protocols.


TIP: What type of liquid are you trying to dispense? What accuracy is required? Consider contamination - do you need to switch between applications, liquid types etc?


Manual or Electronic Pipettes?

Consider whether a manual or electronic pipette is more appropriate for your needs.

Generally, manual pipettes are more robust and are therefore well suited to everyday use. They are often very easy to calibrate and most suited to research labs that do not require high throughput processing. The latest manual pipettes are made with comfort and reliability in mind, for example the new Tacta range of mechanical pipettes from Sartorius Group feature an ergonomic design and a four digit display for accurate volume setting. Another good example of a manual pipette includes the INTEGRA Biosciences EVOLVE, which incorporates a quick set dial for fast volume setting and innovative pipette tip grip technology, described in Figure 1.

Flexibility should be considered when purchasing your pipette; is it easy to switch between different applications or solutions? Is the pipette autoclavable? Do you need a single-channel, multi-channel or fixed volume pipette?


Figure 1: The EVOLVE Manual Pipette from Integra Biosciences


Electronic pipettes require less force and fewer hand movements, which reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries. Accuracy and precision is often enhanced as there is less chance of human error. The PIPETMAN M from Gilson, see Figure 2 below, is a fully motorized pipette that requires virtually zero pipetting forces to aspirate and dispense samples. The newly updated version of this pipette range also features a personalized pipetting mode that allows users to create pipetting protocols easily and rapidly. Ideal for many applications including: qPCR, ELISA, NGS and cell culture, among others. PIPETMAN M also offers guaranteed* accuracy and precision in repetitive pipetting mode and ensures reliable performance from the first to the last aliquot. Bridging the gap between a handheld electronic pipette and a fully automated system is the VIAFLO range of dispensers from INTEGRA. These systems give labs the flexibility to automate certain processes without the need for purchasing a huge fully integrated multi-modular system.


Figure 2: Motorized pipette PIPETMAN M from Gilson


TIP: Consider ergonomic design and the frequency of use.


Adjustable or Fixed Volume Pipette

Another factor you will need to consider is whether you require an adjustable or fixed volume pipette. This consideration will very much depend upon the accuracy required. The most common type of pipettes can be set to a specific volume within their operational range and are known as adjustable pipettes. These limits must be adhered to, as these pipettes are prone to damage if they are adjusted too far above or below the volume range. The volume of a fixed volume pipette, as its name suggests, cannot be changed. Because the mechanisms within fixed volume pipettes are less complex, they often result in more accurate volume measurements.

Single / Multi-Channel Pipettes

The decision of whether to purchase a single-channel pipette or multi-channel pipette is dependent upon the volume to be dispensed and the number of repeats. For manual high-throughput applications, such as preparing a 96-well microtiter plate, most researchers prefer a multi-channel pipette. Instead of handling well by well, a row of 8 wells can be handled in parallel as this type of pipette has 8 pistons (see section on ‘fluid drive technology’ below) in parallel. Many models incorporate simple mechanisms to adjust tip spacing on the pipette to allow for pipetting between plates, tubes and other labware of different sizes. The new generation of VOYAGER II pipettes from INTEGRA incorporates motorized tip spacing to optimize this process.

There are also specialized repeater pipettes that are optimized for repeating working steps. For example, a repeater pipette can dispense a specific volume, such as 20 µL, several times from a single aspiration of a larger volume. In general, they have specific tips that do not fit on normal pipettes, although some electronic pipettes are able to perform this function using standard tips.


TIP: Consider how easily the pipette can be calibrated, a method usually achieved through gravimetric analysis. When buying a pipette, you should discuss calibration protocols with the manufacturer.


Automated Liquid Handler Technology

In order for liquid handling solutions to meet the demands of today’s laboratories, automation of pipettes has led to the development of large workstations using a number of core technologies. Fundamentally, liquid handling systems can be categorized as automated dispensers, robotic workstations or fully integrated workstations. The technologies and considerations underlying each of these instrument types are outlined below.

Bench-Top Semi-Automatic Pipettors

There are many Bench-top semi-automated pipettors available; these offer a more efficient method to manual pipetting that can also reduce the risk of repetitive strain disorder. These systems aim to bridge the gap between pipettes and a fully automated system, and are designed to provide fast and precise processing of 96- and 384-well microplates, without the requirement of a computer. For example, the CyBi®-SELMA semi-automatic pipettor, part of the Analytik Jena CyBio Product Line, is designed to fill 96 and 384-well microplate formats in seconds. Another option is the Eppendorf epMotion 96, shown in Figure 3, which has a large volume range between 0.5 µL and 300 µL using only one head or system, eliminating the need to switch pipette heads or employ a second device to achieve all volumes. Semi-automatic pipettors also have the open flexibility of linking to external devices such as shakers, heating adapters, etc. See more in the SelectScience pipette directory.

Figure 3: The Eppendorf epMotion 96 semi-automatic pipettor


Automated Dispensers

The simplest types of liquid handlers are automated pipettes or dispensers. Automated dispensers are designed to deliver precise and measured quantities of liquid to a receptor vessel, such as a microplate. These instruments range from single-channel devices, which dispense one volume at a time, to multi-channel devices, capable of dispensing up to 1536 aliquots simultaneously, such as the CyBi®-Well Vario from Analytik Jena in Figure 4.

Single-channel instruments were the original automated liquid handling systems and are still commercially available today. The main advantage of single-channel instruments is flexibility, but as a result of only having one channel, they do have throughput limitations. Currently, multi-channel systems make up the majority of automated liquid handlers produced.


Figure 4: 1536 Multi-Channel Dispensing with the CyBi®-Well Vario from Analytik Jena


TIP: Consider the volume range you require in a liquid handler. Many modern liquid handlers are capable of delivering a wide range of volumes, making them suitable for several applications.


Multi-channel systems with a small number of channels (4, 8, 12 or 16) are generally more flexible than systems with a larger number of channels. This is because the spacing between the channels can usually be adjusted, making them suitable for more applications. These channels are built into a structure known as a ‘head’, with permanent spacing matching the spacing of the wells in the microplate. In drug discovery, automated liquid dispensers are routinely used for high throughput content and compound screening.

The majority of automated dispensers employ a piston or syringe pump for operation, but other types of fluid drive technology can be used. Liquid level detection is an important component of all of today’s liquid handlers. Traditional capacitive liquid level detection is still most commonly used to determine when the tip is submerged in liquid. Data software can determine the height of the liquid surface and take appropriate action. An alternative to capacitive liquid sensing is pressure based liquid level detection. The data from this sensor changes as the tip approaches the liquid surface, touches the surface and drives below. This data can then be used to control pipetting in real-time. Other pipetting systems utilize optical sensor technology for liquid level detection.

Pressure level sensing can be used to determine the level of non-ionic liquids.

Robotic Workstations

More complex systems with built-in robotic functionality have been developed to manipulate the position of the dispensers and/or containers of liquid handling systems. It is the ability to move and carry out additional functions that differentiates these systems from automated dispensers. Robotic workstations allow for more automation than can be achieved with a static liquid handler. The TTP Labtech mosquito® HTS in Figure 5, for example, provides flexible, highly accurate nanoliter liquid handling for HTS assay miniaturization, while ensuring zero cross-contamination. The mosquito® HTS is suitable for a number of application including high-throughput mass spec experiments, NGS library preparation, miniaturized serial dilution, reformatting and assay plate creation in high throughput screening assays.


Figure 5: See how the TTP Labtech mosquito® HTS enables automated assay miniaturization


Systems that can move slides, tubes or microplates for example, tend to be more mechanically complex and consequently can be quite sizeable. While large, complex liquid handlers still dominate large industrial and academic projects, the industry is moving towards more compact, modular automated liquid handling systems. Larger systems with more complex functionality often create issues around movement and vibration. Vibration can have a detrimental effect on reliability and accuracy.


TIP: Most manufacturers will have undertaken stringent procedures to ensure vibration is kept to a minimum, but it is worth discussing this with the supplier before purchasing an instrument.


Fully Integrated Workstations

Fully integrated workstations may enable the integration of additional laboratory devices, such as centrifuges, microplate readers, PCR instruments, colony pickers, heat sealers, shaking modules, bar code readers, spectrophotometric devices, storage devices and incubators. More complex liquid handling workstations can perform multiple laboratory unit operations such as sample transport, sample mixing, manipulation and incubation, as well as transporting vessels to/from other workstations.

When purchasing an automated liquid handling system, it is important to establish just how flexible you need the system to be. Most researchers seek a system that can grow with the laboratory’s needs, for example, with regard to changes in throughput and application. In order for a system to grow with your changing requirements, you will need to investigate the potential for upgradability.

The most common functions of integrated liquid handling workstations include nucleic acid preparation, PCR, next generation sequencing, ELISA, time resolved fluorescence, high-throughput screening, assay automation, protein crystallography, solid-phase extraction and liquid-liquid extraction. For example, the PIPETMAX automated liquid handling system from Gilson, shown in Figure 6, can be used with the qPCR Assistant to aid qPCR set-up. Multi-functional (modular) workstations allow a number of different applications to be performed and provide even greater flexibility.


TIP: When choosing an automated liquid handling system it is important to consider both your current and future application requirements. If you intend to customize your liquid handler and integrate other modules such as microplate readers and PCR instruments, you will need to discuss its compatibility with the manufacturer.

Figure 6: The Gilson PIPETMAX - an example of a multi-functional liquid handling system


Other General Considerations for Automated Liquid Handlers

In recent years, assay miniaturization, which provides a number of cost and time-saving benefits for the research and drug discovery industry, has been a real driving force in the evolution of liquid handling systems. Such benefits include a reduction in the amount of valuable compounds and reagents per assay, which enables an increase in the assay range and size to be achieved, providing a greater amount of information per screen. Microliter-size assays are now routine, with PCR often employing nanoliter or picoliter reaction volumes, and microarraying striving for femtoliter dispensing.

Reduced volumes increase an assay’s volumetric complexity, and inaccuracies that may occur when dispensing low volumes can become proportionally magnified. The development of acoustic liquid handling also provides a solution to inaccuracies that can occur when dispensing low volumes. These automated systems use acoustic energy, through sound waves, to eject precisely sized droplets from a source on to a microplate, slide or other surface suspended above the source. Download and read this application note for an example of a miniaturization study using an acoustic system, the Echo® 500 Series, from Labcyte, for high-throughput multiplexed apoptosis assays.

Liquid handling quality assurance is an extremely important factor to consider for most applications, and is particularly important for critical drug discovery processes. Due to the minute volumes typically handled during high throughput screening and other drug discovery phases, inaccuracies of just one microliter can affect the integrity of the process by producing false positive and false negative results. Identifying and correcting any liquid handling error can save scientists in any field time, money and resources. New technologies are now available for rapid and reproducible assessment of the accuracy and precision of volumes dispensed from automatic instrumentation.


TIP: Ensure you have stringent quality assurance procedures in place. In addition, you should ask the manufacturer what assay validation data is available for a specific liquid handler. This will provide you with proof that the instrument performs as indicated.


Another important consideration that should be investigated when choosing a liquid handler is its flow rate spectrum. Most liquid handlers will have adjustable flow rates that cover a relatively large range. It is important to ensure that this range covers the flow rate you require for your applications. Higher flow rates are likely to be required for applications such as sensitive cell based assays, while slower flow rates may be necessary for viscous fluids or chromatographic assays.


TIP: How sensitive is your application and operation to downtime? If you need constant operation, you may want to consider purchasing more than one liquid handler.


Robust software that does not crash is essential for walk-away liquid handling. Most robotic software has a consistent and intuitive graphical user interface to control all movement and pipetting procedures of your workstation.


TIP: You should look for software that is user friendly and versatile, but does not require any extensive programming skills. Start-up screens or wizards to guide users through their daily routines can be extremely helpful. Free software upgrades are also essential.


TIP: Also consider the location of the manufacturer. Adequate support for your liquid handler in your country is an essential requirement.


Software that enables scheduling of the workflow may be beneficial for very high throughput procedures and walk-away liquid handling. Some applications may benefit from features such as tip touch, multi-target dispensing, timing procedures and complete control over accessories. The software should be able to be integrated with other software and allow interaction with peripheral devices such as barcode readers, shakers and incubators. Some software packages support FDA regulation requirements for multilevel user management, full audit trail, electronic records and electronic signatures. Being able to ‘walk-away’ and leave your instrument to do its required handling job, and trust that it is not contaminating samples, losing tips and is dispensing accurately, is essential.

Specialized consumables, such as microplates and pipette tips, are used within liquid handling equipment. Consider which consumables are required for your applications and ensure these can be used with your instrument.

Cross contamination can occur when the sample fluid is not sufficiently emptied from the tip. Some automated liquid handlers use fixed tips, which significantly reduce consumable costs. However, if you choose to use fixed tip transfer devices, you will need to investigate what washing procedures are recommended for the instrument. An alternative to fixed tips is the use of disposable tips, which removes the need for time consuming washing steps. Many manufacturers claim that disposable tips completely eliminate cross-contamination, but this should be read with caution. During tip ejection, disposable tips can produce aerosols, which potentially lead to cross contamination. Aerosol production results from displacement of residual liquid in the tip by the high force loads typically required for tip injection.

Liquid handling equipment ranges in size, from small instruments that can fit inside a fume hood to large room-sized systems; although many manufacturers are trending towards smaller, more compact systems.


TIP: Consider how much of your laboratory space can be dedicated to your new instrument and whether you will need space for additional modules.


Fluid Drive Technology

Pumping liquid in accurate measures is fundamental to all liquid handling systems. There are a few types of pump that might be used. The different types of pumps and the system they are used in are shown in Table 2.

Pumping liquid in accurate measures is fundamental to all automated liquid handling systems. There are a few types of pump that might be used, thus you should consider the dispenser type that best suits your requirements. The most common type of pump used in liquid handling systems is a piston pump, also known as a syringe pump. In automated liquid handling systems, piston pumps can take many forms. Table 2 below provides details of the different types of pumps and their features and considerations.


TIP: When purchasing a liquid handling system, you should ask the manufacturer which types of dispensing technology or pumps are employed.


Table 2: The different types of pumps used in liquid handling instrumentation and their features

Pump Types

Displacement System

Features / Considerations

Piston (Syringe) Pumps

Air-displacement System

Inherent gap of air that functions as the working fluid (see air displacement pipettes)

Liquid or Hydraulic Displacement System

Connected via tubing

Pre-loading liquid acts as the working fluid

Continuous Flow (Check Valve) System

Two plus pistons are arranged so that some pistons are dispensing, others are drawing in fluid. Uses check valves to limit flow to one direction and provide continuous flow

Diaphragm Pumps

Single directional pumping

Check valves are used to maintain fluid flow in one net direction

Simple spinning motor can be used to generate the reciprocating motion

Bi-directional pumping (two diaphragm pumps)

Two diaphragm pumps

Peristaltic Pumps

Roller squeezes a liquid-containing flexible tube

Minimal cross contamination

Lack of accuracy

Pulsed flow – use control loops that can handle such variable loading dynamics

Fluid output is not as constant as piston pumps

Pressure Driven Pump Systems

Small, inexpensive air pumps or pressurized reservoirs create the vacuum for suction or pressure for dispense

Pumps are typically mounted just above the tips

Active valve and pressure sensing technology with advanced feedback-control algorithms that utilize the data collected from the pressure sensors to control the valves and pumps

Next Generation Sequencing


Piston-based pumps are used in the majority of modern automated liquid handling systems.

Application Specific Workflows

Many of the general considerations highlighted in the previous section of the guide, including required volume range, flow rate and throughput, will be largely dependent on your application. Although these considerations will be influenced by your application, they are applicable for all scientists looking to purchase liquid handling equipment. This section of the guide takes a more in-depth look at specific applications performed by liquid handling equipment and discusses some of the factors that should be considered when implementing technology for a specific application.

Biological Samples

The need to handle biological samples in small or large quantities is an increasing requirement for liquid handling instrumentation. Miniaturization, as described above, of samples for specific screening, PCR, assays, chemical analyses and mass spectrometry is now used in many different labs.

The main requirement for handling biological samples is avoidance of cross-contamination. Most research-based labs are moving towards using automation in their sample preparation, and there are many labs that have migrated towards the semi-automated pipettor systems which are helping to bridge the gap between handheld dispensers and fully automated systems. The use of positive displacement and disposable tips, as well as the development acoustic liquid handling help to reduce the cross-contamination issues of moving between samples and also ensure precise dispensing of the liquids involved.

Cell Based Assays

Cell based assays refer to any of a number of different experiments based on the use of live cells; they are a versatile and powerful tool in many research laboratories. In drug discovery, for example, cell based assays can be used to measure various parameters, including cell proliferation, toxicity, motility, formation of a measurable product and morphology. Although still widely used, in traditional cell based assays, the cells are cultured in a two-dimensional format. Three-dimensional (3D) cell culture is currently gaining popularity, as it enables cells to be studied in a more physiologically relevant environment. In this application note, the Biomek FX P Laboratory Workstation, from Beckman Coulter, is shown to effectively automate the culture and drug sensitivity screening of cancer spheroids.


TIP: If you intend to automate 3D cell culture you will need to check that your system is capable of handling the specialized plates and consumables required for this application.


In cell based assays, automated liquid handlers can be used for applications such as cell plating, compound addition and reagent addition. While automation does provide consistency for cell based assays, speed is an important factor that needs careful consideration. In cell based assays timing is everything; completing the protocol before resident cells have the opportunity to change through growth, senescence, or death is critical for obtaining reliable and accurate results. Hear how advances in acoustic liquid handling, in combination with mass spectrometry, have helped scientists at AstraZeneca to develop a method for ultra high throughput screening, in the video interview, Figure 7.


Figure 7: Hear about a breakthrough method for ultra high throughput screening


Just as there is no one way to accomplish a cell based assay, there is no one way to automate a cell based assay. Depending on the structure of the experiment, as well as the available time, space and budget, it might be best to automate a single small portion, automate several portions and link them together manually, or automate an entire assay.

Next Generation Sequencing

Sample preparation for next generation sequencing (NGS) involves many steps that can be tedious and prone to error. Most steps involved are highly amenable to automation, which standardizes the process and provides greater consistency in results. Consequently, several manufacturers have developed liquid handlers that provide a walk-away solution for NGS sample preparation applications. See examples of automated solutions for NGS sample preparation in Figure 8 and Figure 9. Technologies that minaturize NGS sample preparation offer cost savings and lower sample input, especially useful for high- throughput applications. Download this poster to learn how the TTP Labtech mosquito® HTS Nanolitre Liquid Handler provides accurate ultra-low volume liquid handling and gentle pipetting for miniaturized NGS sample preparation.


Figure 8: Watch this presentation to learn how the Beckman Coulter Biomek FXP workstation is optimized for NGS sample preparation of challenging samples

Figure 9: The Hamilton Microlab STAR has been verified as a suitable workstation for TruSeq Stranded mRNA sample preparation.


TIP: When purchasing an NGS liquid handling system, check for reagent compatibility, plus consider the space in your lab and the potential for expansion and upgrades of the machine.


Polymerase Chain Reaction

The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a cornerstone technology for genetic research and many molecular diagnostic-based tests. As projects become larger and more laboratories and clinics adopt PCR, consistency, speed and performance become increasingly important. If your lab is routinely processing several PCR plates, you may wish to consider automating the procedure. If your PCR applications are few and far between you may find a multi-channel, electronic pipette is sufficient for improving you experiments. Automating PCR can reduce human error, costs, the risk of repetitive strain injuries and enable better reproducibility. Regardless of your throughput, there are many things to consider when performing PCR, such as sample integrity, reaction mix components, or following the MIQE guidelines (Minimum Information for Publication of Quantitative Real-Time PCR Experiments). Products such the qPCR Assistant software and the Normalization Assistant, Figure 10, from Gilson are designed to eliminate error and cross-contamination. Learn more about how Gilson's qPCR Assistant and Normalization Assistant automate RNA normalization and qPCR setup for improved qPCR analysis in this application note.

In large liquid handling systems, consider the deck layout and ensure that the system is versatile in terms of accepting a variety of PCR plate formats.


Figure 10: Normalization Assistant software from Gilson


TIP: Consider what sections of your PCR workflow you are interested in automating. You may wish to automate DNA extraction, isolation and quantitation, in addition to automating PCR set up. You should also determine what level of operator intervention you require and the timeline for your projects.


TIP: Consider compatibility, upgradability, speed and accuracy. Determine if the system contains a thermal-regulatory module that will ensure temperature regulation in the heating blocks, and consider including modules for plate sealing and centrifugation.


Protein Crystallization

The protein crystallization process involves long wait periods of weeks or months, during which the actual protein crystals are formed under controlled conditions. Robotic dispensing instrumentation can be used to rapidly set up large numbers of protein crystallization conditions. In general, automation improves throughput, decreases error within and between experiments, and organizes the data by generating reports of the steps performed.

Several available liquid handling systems are dedicated to protein crystallization, such as the Freedom EVO® Protein Crystallography from Tecan and the TTP Labtech dragonfly® Screen Optimisation Liquid Handler, which is designed to complement the TTP Labtech mosquito® in the protein crystallization workflow. It is recommended to choose a workstation that is capable of dispensing small sample fluid volumes, probably in the nanoliter range. This will enable you to use smaller volumes of your precious protein samples and test more crystallization conditions. Most liquid handlers for protein crystallization will be capable of automating the most popular protein crystallization techniques including hanging drop, sitting drop and microbatch.

A modular system, which can be configured to a wide range of requirements, is the usually the best option for protein crystallographers.


TIP: Check what, if any, setup changes are required for each of these different techniques involved in crystallization. Also consider modules for plate storage, imaging and sample tracking.


The Future of Liquid Handling

Given the cost, complexity and reliability of early systems, very few people would have predicted a bright future for automated liquid handling or for laboratory automation in general. However, the demands of certain applications, including high-throughput screening, medical diagnostics and genomic sequencing, created a necessity that made automation commonplace. Automation has enabled laboratories to perform routine tasks in a much faster time and with much better results. The future of automated liquid handling now looks extremely bright, with manufacturers continuing to invest in the development of new systems to better meet the needs of today’s scientists. The recent expansion beyond traditional reagent and solvent dispensing emphasizes how automated liquid handling is maturing as an industry.

In the future, scientists will continue to demand more walk-away time, higher throughput, smaller volume ranges, increased speed, more flexibility, more compact systems, improved software and greater accuracy. Automated liquid handling will be become routine in more scientific industries in the future and will be applied to even more scientific procedures. Automation companies will continue to work with reagent manufacturers to develop larger numbers of validated protocols. These collaborations will offer greater diversity and more choice. Furthermore, such walk-away protocols will add value and flexibility to the workstation.

There may be an increase in the demand for miniaturization and the need to handle ever smaller volumes more efficiently and more accurately, with systems handling microfluidic and nano-sample preparation, plus single cell analysis, pushing the boundaries of sample handling. There is also a growing need for liquid handling technologies in the automation of cellular workflows, with particular demand for 3D cell culture solutions for the drug discovery industry. The need to analyze large volumes of blood in the areas of diagnostics, clinical trials and forensics labs is also becoming increasingly important.

The automation of NGS has become a particular focus for the clinical industry, with a demand for the use of this technology in a number of areas, including infectious disease and cancer. Progress in microfluidic liquid handling will also aid synthetic biology, used, for example, in the development of lab-on-a-chip technology. Learn more about organ-on-a-chip technology and its potential for drug discovery and toxicology research in this video interview with Professor John McLean, of Vanderbilt University.

In the future, straightforward laboratory tasks will become more automated, simplifying everyday procedures. Liquid handling systems will become more customizable, with external devices being interfaced with systems and automation will become globalized and standardized, offering limitless choices for the modern lab.


There are many different types of liquid handling system on the market and choosing the correct one for your applications may be challenging. By understanding the technology and applying a few simple considerations, selecting the right instrument can be a much easier task.

Visit the SelectScience product directory to find out about the latest liquid handling technology from leading manufacturers and read user reviews. Watch the latest videos and use the SelectScience application note library to keep up-to-date with the latest liquid handling methods.

Editor's Picks

Editor ImageKerry Parker

PIPETMAX® (Gilson, Inc.)

Product image

5 out of 5

“The PIPETMAX has a small size that fits the needs of tabletop liquid handling.”
Hicham Zegzouti, Promega

Read more

Multipette® M4/Repeater® M4 (Eppendorf)

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4 out of 5

“This product makes such a difference in speed and precision.”
Alec Wilhelmi, Drake University

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Mantis (Formulatrix, Inc.)

Product image

5 out of 5

“Small, precise, easy to use dispenser for highly precious reagents!”
Sara Dunne, Northwestern University

Read more

Microlab STAR Line Liquid Handling Workstations (Hamilton Company)

Product image

4 out of 5

“The STAR is streamlining our workflow and shortening timelines.”
William Wittbold, Ajinomoto Althea

Read more

Biomek FXP Laboratory Workstation (Beckman Coulter)

Product image

4 out of 5

“The Biomek FXp is great for 96 well dispensing and for individual dispensing via probes.”
Renee Schinaman, Procter & Gamble Co.

Read more

D300e Digital Dispenser (Tecan)

Product image

4 out of 5

“Plug and play. Super easy software, design of experiment and reporting.”
Oliver Dreier, Novartis

Read more