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Automated analysis of up to 10,000 coronavirus tests per day

As cases rise during the second wave of the pandemic, there is also a growing need for more efficient ways of analysing coronavirus tests. 

Our blog has already reported on how item products and solutions are helping to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Examples include protective screens and disinfectant stands, enclosures for mask production facilities and a mobile air filter system. This post continues in the same vein and addresses an issue that has become increasingly important, especially in recent weeks – analysing coronavirus tests. As case numbers rise and more people are potentially infected, the number of tests carried out is also growing, which risks taking labs to the very limits of their capacity. U.S. technology company PerkinElmer, which specialises in environmental and human health, has come up with an innovative automated solution that uses Line X 8 and XMS profiles from item.       

Huge increase in capacity

The PerkinElmer workstations automate the analysis of PCR tests (PCR = polymerase chain reaction), the main method used to detect the virus. With this type of analysis, the viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) is extracted from a swab and identified using real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR). This typically requires lab staff to carry out separate manual steps on several different pieces of equipment. By taking over all these tasks, the plate::handler™ FLEX robot arm integrated into the workstation substantially boosts capacity. “A far higher throughput can be achieved, which is a key consideration right now. Our end-to-end high-throughput explorer™ G3 workstation can process up to 10,000 samples in 24 hours,” says Anne Millahn. In her role as associate product manager at PerkinElmer in Hamburg, she deals with automation solutions and thus with the workstations used to analyse coronavirus tests.

Perfect for the analysis of coronavirus tests

In addition to the above-mentioned workstation – the top configuration level with the most comprehensive equipment, which is currently in greatest demand – there are also five small models for analysing coronavirus tests. The explorer™ G3 workstations are tailored to customer specifications, especially the available space in the lab. What’s more, they all have a modular structure, which also makes them scalable if required. This is possible thanks to a basic frame made using Line X 8 profiles from item. In addition, the external table legs are made from XMS profiles. Besides quality and modularity considerations, there are wholly pragmatic reasons for this. “It makes installing the various cables very easy, which is highly practical for us, because the workstation always has a first and a second level,” underlines Ms. Millahn.

item has a branch here in Hamburg and delivers the basic frames already assembled. We regard item as a solution provider in the truest sense of the word.

The table legs made from XMS profiles have the added advantage of connecting seamlessly to the upper part of the frame. After all, looks are important, too. “item has a very classy look that suits our quality and design requirements and is fitting for a premium automation solution. We really liked the aesthetics of item solutions in an earlier project,” continues Ms. Millahn. Direct coordination with item also makes life very easy for PerkinElmer. “The company does all the assembly work for us and delivers products fully assembled. We regard item as a solution provider in the truest sense of the word,” she adds. Thanks to this all-in-one package, item profiles have been used in all PerkinElmer workstations since 2017.

This explorer™ G3 workstation is doing valuable work in cancer research.

Automation solves numerous challenges

PerkinElmer’s automated workstations are also found in many other applications. For example, an Austrian laboratory uses the explorer™ G3 workstation for cancer research purposes. In this case, too, the entire system is customised – including the basic frame from item. The level of automation achieved with these workstations is expressly not intended to make lab staff superfluous, but rather to relieve the strain on them by taking over particular tasks. There are also special circumstances to be considered, such as the severe shortage of specialist staff in this field. This has resulted in the average age of lab personnel rising sharply – from around 43 just three years ago to about 55 at present. Seen in this context, the automation of test analyses is a response to two developments – acute demand (as with the current analysis of coronavirus tests) and staff shortages. Last but not least, existing employees also benefit. “Rather than dealing with comparatively simple tasks, they can now focus on challenging research work thanks to automation,” emphasises Ms. Millahn.

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