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How Much Does a Liquid Handler Cost?

How Much Does a Liquid Handler Cost?

The relentless pursuit of precision, efficiency, and reliability has led to the widespread adoption of automation in the life sciences. This technological advancement is particularly evident in environments where meticulous operations are the backbone of groundbreaking discoveries and scalability. Liquid handling is an indispensable component among the various developments of lab automation. 

As research paradigms grow increasingly complex, the onus falls on technologies that can handle liquid samples with unwavering accuracy. Enter liquid handlers—sophisticated instruments designed to transform the traditional lab landscape.

Liquid handlers play an instrumental role in buttressing the pillars of reproducibility and accuracy. These are not mere machines; they are the vanguards of consistency, ensuring that every droplet dispensed or aspirated adheres to the exact parameters set by researchers. Their impact doesn’t stop there. 

With the capability to handle multiple samples simultaneously, they champion the cause of high-throughput experiments, enabling labs to expedite workflows and accomplish tasks that would be time-consuming or nearly impossible manually.

In the following sections, we will review the basics of liquid handling, the cost implications of these systems and instruments, and the strategic considerations labs must weigh when deciding to buy or lease a liquid handler or liquid handling system.

Basics of Liquid Handling

At its core, liquid handling refers to transferring specific volumes of liquids, typically in the form of samples or reagents, within a laboratory setting.

This seemingly simple task is paramount to countless laboratory procedures, from routine assays to intricate genomic studies. However, as scientific endeavors grow in sophistication, the need for precision and scalability in liquid handling has become non-negotiable. This necessity birthed automated liquid handling systems.

Automated liquid handling systems are advanced equipment that mechanizes the process of transferring liquids. Unlike manual pipetting, which relies heavily on human precision and can be susceptible to errors, these systems offer higher accuracy, repeatability, and throughput.

Their primary role in lab automation is to enhance efficiency, minimize human intervention (and thus potential errors), and allow for scalability in experimental procedures, especially in applications requiring high throughput or the simultaneous handling of numerous samples.

There are several components that work together to provide liquid handling automation. Let's look at what makes one of these devices tick:

  • Pipette: Often mirroring their manual counterparts in function, the pipettes in these systems are engineered for automated operations. They aspirate and dispense liquids, and their design ensures minimal wastage and optimal precision.
  • Microplate: A staple in many laboratories, the microplate, sometimes known as a multi-well plate, hosts multiple small wells. Each well can contain a distinct sample or reagent, making microplates ideal for high-throughput experiments.
  • Robotic Arms: These are the 'muscles' of the liquid handling robot. Robotic arms move in specified patterns, ensuring the right amount of liquid is transferred to the correct location. They can handle multiple pipettes, enhancing the system's multitasking capabilities.
  • Well Plates: Similar in function to microplates but varying in design and capacity, well plates serve as containers for samples and reagents. Different well plates can be used depending on the specific needs of an experiment, varying in the number of wells and their volume capacities.

Together, these components create a cohesive unit that has dramatically improved upon the process of liquid handling, providing researchers with an invaluable tool in their scientific toolkit.

Importance of Liquid Handling in Modern Laboratories

In contemporary research environments, the trajectory of scientific exploration is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Central to this acceleration is molecular biology, where fields such as genomics, sequencing, diagnostics, and PCR have witnessed transformative advancements. At the heart of these disciplines lies the foundational process of liquid handling.

Genomics, the study of the complete set of genes within an organism, necessitates high-throughput technologies to manage and analyze vast quantities of DNA samples. Liquid handlers play a pivotal role here, ensuring consistent sample preparation, precise reagent addition, and meticulous handling, which are all fundamental for successful genomic analysis.

Sequencing, particularly next-generation sequencing, requires the preparation of libraries from minute amounts of DNA or RNA. This involves various stages of pipetting, diluting, and mixing, tasks that become exponentially accurate and efficient with the aid of liquid handlers. Such precision is paramount in ensuring the fidelity of sequencing data.

In the world of diagnostics, timely and accurate results can mean the difference between life and death. Liquid handlers streamline the diagnostic workflow by automating sample preparation, ensuring that tests like ELISAs, immunoassays, and nucleic acid tests are performed with unparalleled precision, consistency, and speed.

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), a technique used to amplify and quantify DNA, is another domain where liquid handling shines. With PCR's sensitivity to contamination and its need for precise thermocycling conditions, the consistent and accurate delivery of reagents and samples by liquid handlers is indispensable.

Beyond these specific applications, the overarching themes of sample preparation, dilution, and assays further emphasize the value of liquid handlers. A slight discrepancy in sample preparation can cascade into significant errors in experimental outcomes. Ensuring that samples are diluted to their precise concentrations is vital for assays' accuracy. Here, again, liquid handlers provide an extra layer of assurance, automating tasks that, if done manually, might introduce variability and error.

In essence, with its intricate procedures and demanding precision, the modern laboratory leans heavily on liquid handling systems. These systems bolster accuracy and catalyze the pace of discovery in these ever-evolving fields.

Factors Influencing the Cost of Liquid Handlers

Understanding the cost of a liquid handler requires an analysis of several variables that come into play, each contributing to the final price. Whether a laboratory is considering acquiring its first automated liquid handling system or looking to upgrade its existing infrastructure, understanding these cost drivers is crucial. Let’s break down the factors that affect the price:

  • Functionality: Like any other technology, a liquid handler's scope and range of operations can determine its price point. Systems equipped with multiple modules or enhanced functionality tend to come at a premium. For instance, a basic handler designed solely for pipetting might be more affordable than one integrated with heating, cooling, or shaking modules.
  • Volume Range: Liquid handlers cater to various tasks, from handling microliters of reagents in genomics labs to larger volumes in industrial settings. The range of volume these systems can handle, dictated by their pipettes and pipetting systems, directly influences their cost. A machine capable of precise nanoliter transfers might command a higher price due to the intricate engineering involved.
  • Brands: As with many products, brand reputation and legacy can influence cost. Some brands have carved a niche for themselves in the liquid handling domain, becoming synonymous with reliability and precision. Brands such as Tecan, Beckman Coulter, Perkin Elmer, Agilent, Hamilton, and Eppendorf have a range of models under their banner. Specific models, like the Tecan Freedom EVO, have garnered accolades for their performance and capabilities, and this recognition is often reflected in their price.
  • Consumables: The recurring costs associated with liquid handlers come from consumables. Items like disposable tips, barcode systems, and pipette tips might seem inconsequential, but their cumulative expense over time is a significant cost factor. Moreover, proprietary consumables designed for specific models or brands can sometimes be pricier than generic alternatives.
  • Additional Features: The core functionality of liquid handling can be enhanced with supplementary features. Some handlers come equipped with specialized labware for unique tasks. Washers integrated into the system ensure cleanliness and reduce cross-contamination, while diagnostics modules can provide real-time feedback on the handling process. These add-ons, while boosting the machine’s utility, can also elevate its cost.

When evaluating the cost of a liquid handler, it’s essential to look beyond the initial price. A comprehensive assessment should consider the system’s capabilities, the recurring costs of consumables, and the potential return on investment in terms of efficiency, precision, and scalability.

Liquid Handler Cost & Price Range

The price range for liquid handling systems can vary widely depending on the specifications and the manufacturer. For instance, Hamilton’s liquid handling systems range from approximately $100,000 to $2 million​​. We recommend contacting manufacturers or suppliers directly or requesting quotes from platforms like LabX or SelectScience for a more detailed cost breakdown and updated pricing.

Benchtop vs. Larger Workstations

  • Benchtop Liquid Handlers: These compact systems are designed for labs with space constraints or for those that do not require the full suite of features provided by larger units. They generally cater to basic liquid handling needs and are more affordable. As of 2023, prices typically range from $10,000 to $50,000, depending on the brand and functionality.
  • Larger Liquid Handling Workstations: These are comprehensive systems equipped with a broader range of functionalities. They can handle larger volumes, offer higher throughput, and often come with advanced features. As of 2023, the price range generally spans from $100,000 to $500,000 or more for the most advanced systems.

Consumables

  • Disposable Tips: These are recurrent costs and can add up, especially for high-throughput labs. Prices can vary based on quality and volume, but expect to spend anywhere from $0.01 to $0.50 per tip.
  • Pipette Tips: The price can range from $50 to $200 for a pack, with variations based on quality, volume, and whether they're standard or filter tips.

High-End Models & Their Features

  • Robotic Arms: Systems equipped with multiple robotic arms or more advanced robotic technology can be on the pricier side. This feature allows simultaneous tasks and increased efficiency.
  • High-Throughput Capacity: Systems designed for high-throughput workflows, catering to labs with large sample numbers or those conducting extensive research, usually come at a premium.
  • Advanced Automated Liquid Handling Platforms: These are top-tier systems that integrate various lab functions, from basic pipetting to heating, shaking, or even imaging. Models like the Tecan Freedom EVO are included in this category and are known for their advanced features, reliability, and, consequently, a higher price tag.

As mentioned, the cost of liquid handlers can vary significantly and will ultimately depend on your laboratory's specific needs and preferences. While the initial investment in a top-tier system is typically quite significant, the efficiency, accuracy, and scalability liquid handling systems offer can lead to long-term savings and enhanced research capabilities.

Buying vs. Leasing a Liquid Handler

Seeing how expensive liquid handlers and systems can get, acquiring one presents a significant financial decision for you to make. The choice between buying and leasing is not merely a matter of immediate expense but requires a holistic assessment of long-term needs, financial flexibility, and strategic direction. Let’s consider the pros and cons of both options.

Buying a Liquid Handler

  • Upfront Costs: Purchasing a liquid handler requires a substantial initial investment. The price can range from tens of thousands to over $100,000, depending on the model and its features.
  • Maintenance: Owning a machine means bearing all responsibilities related to its maintenance. Over time, maintenance costs can accumulate, especially if the device is frequently used or malfunctions.
  • Long-Term Investment: On the plus side, buying provides complete ownership. The equipment can be used for its entire operational lifespan, offering value over the years. Furthermore, there's flexibility in customization without any restrictions from leasing terms.

Leasing a Liquid Handler

  • Flexibility in Upgrading: Leasing offers labs the agility to adapt to new technological advancements. As newer automation solutions are introduced, labs can transition without the constraints of owning outdated equipment.
  • No Long-Term Commitment: Lease terms can range from a few months to several years, allowing labs to adjust based on their changing requirements. This flexibility is especially beneficial for projects with uncertain durations or for scaling startups.
  • Reduced Upfront Capital Investment: Labs can allocate funds to other pressing needs or investments without the need for a hefty initial payment.

Buying or leasing a liquid handler hinges on a lab’s financial health, projected research trajectory, and appetite for flexibility versus ownership. Both options come with their sets of advantages and considerations. Labs should perform a cost-benefit analysis tailored to their unique circumstances before deciding.

That said, leasing provides financial flexibility and adaptability that outright purchasing might not offer. With the pace at which technology advances, leasing ensures labs always have access to the latest equipment without being burdened by obsolescence. Furthermore, the financial fluidity of leasing can be a boon, especially for labs in phases of transition, expansion, or those operating under tight budget constraints.

By forgoing significant upfront costs, labs can redistribute their funds to other crucial areas, such as research, staffing, or other equipment. Coupled with the opportunity to upgrade equipment as needed, leasing becomes an attractive option that aligns with the dynamic nature of scientific research, allowing labs to remain at the cutting edge of innovation.

In Conclusion

Automation stands central to advancements in the life sciences sector. Labs that focus on genomics, nucleic acid research, NGS, and other cutting-edge assays understand the indispensable nature of the precision and efficiency that liquid handlers offer. As science continues pushing the boundaries and innovating, labs need equipment that meets their potential.

When acquiring liquid handling systems, labs should actively assess their present and anticipated future needs. While the idea of buying offers a sense of permanence, leasing introduces a pathway to flexibility, allowing labs to continuously align with the latest technological advancements.

Through Excedr, labs can access state-of-the-art equipment without hefty upfront costs by leasing liquid handlers and automated liquid handling systems. This approach ensures you remain at the forefront of technological relevance, enjoy financial adaptability, and can swiftly pivot to meet evolving research demands.

In the dynamic landscape of scientific research, the right equipment should serve as an enabler, not a constraint. Thus, labs should evaluate their needs and consider the benefits of leasing with Excedr to keep pace with relentless innovation. 

Interested in learning more about our leasing program? Get in touch, and a team member will be happy to assist.