|LABORATORY AUTOMATION SPECIALISTS|
Beeline SX Applications Software
The Beeline SX automated liquid handlers may be operated using one of the dedicated applications suites which have been developed to provide the user with significant flexibility and minimal complexity. Our Control Centre software (CCX) has evolved over the last 10 years to become an extremely powerful application centred development environment designed to cater for some specific Test formats including General Pipetting, IFA and ELISA. However, it is of course applicable to a much wider range of other liquid handling tasks. In addition, a separate applications suite called BGX has been developed to focus on applications with a slightly different emphasis.
CCX Main Menu
Intuitive and easy to use
The term Layout refers to a set e.g. a combination of racks and other items on the deck of the instrument which will be used together as part of a Test. The Layout is described to the machine by a set of machine coordinates which are measured directly using the Beeline making it easy to tell the machine where to go to perform particular actions. The Layout Definition is the process of building up a virtual Layout eg a software representation of these items and storing the coordinates in such a way that they can be easily referred to by the software that drives the probes around the deck.
The Layout is built up by placing a set of "virtual" racks on a representation of the work area of the instrument. Each rack is predefined with its own set of coordinates, so all that is generally required to set up a new layout is to set a small number of "reference" coordinates which fix the position of each rack on the bed of the liquid handler. The Layout being defined below is shown in the top left quadrant of the Layout Definition screen.
The instrument is also supplied with a "Game Pad" joystick controller which directly drives the instrument and makes this process very fast and convenient. A typical Layout can be checked and adjusted within a few minutes. However, it should be emphasised that once setup, this is only usually necessary at Installation, Routine Service or if any consumable items are being changed for a different type.
Each Test is defined in the software by a sequence of different Stages which are organised in the form of a " tree" structure. Below is an example of a Test with multiple "Stages". The top left quadrant defines the number of Stages in the Test. Typically these include Sample addition/ dilution, Reagent Addition, Incubation etc and as can be seen these are simply inserted in the sequence as required by the Test being defined. The top right quadrant defines the details of each Stage by means of a number of specific parameters. The bottom left quadrant displays context help text for each parameter to assist in choosing the correct value or to understand its effect.
A large number of parameters can be set up to control the dispensing, including the required volume and the dispensing speed. Others include air bubbles, insertion depth in liquid, probe rinse volumes, mix cycles etc. For controls there are various options specifying the number processed and the frequency. In general, more advanced parameters are held on a separate tab and have sensible default values so the definition of a new Test is commonly a case of starting with an existing Test and saving it as a new test but with slightly adjusted parameters.
Tests can be grouped and processed together as a "Profile" of up to 8 tests although a Profile is required even for a single Test. The Profile is essentially where the Test and the Layout are specified, together with any associated data Import and Export methods. Sample specific data can be imported or manually entered into a Worklist to cater for selective testing of different sample types or test requirements - such as a range of sample specific dilutions.
Another important element of a Test and Layout definition is to specify the type of containers used by particular liquids or in certain positions of the Layout. CCX3 is supplied with a library of pre-defined tubes, racks, plates from which the required one can normally be selected. However, additional containers can be readily defined via the Container Definition menu.
CCX has many features which facilitate the entry of sample specific data. These are combined together within the Worklist Definition module making it convenient to allocate sample test requests either manually or automatically using data imported from one or more external sources. The Worklist is also the repository for all sample processing information and records the status of samples throughout processing. In fact, the creation of a Worklist is the first step in running the instrument routinely.
Import and Export
CCX incorporates a module for the creation of customised methods for importing and exporting of sample data. No programming skills are required in order to set these up, just a knowledge of the format of the file to be imported or exported. Formats supported include CSV, XML and Microsoft Access. Once methods are created they can be inserted into the CCX Profile and can run automatically as a background process if required.
This is the module which actually drives the instrument. It processes all of the steps specified by the Test and represents the main interface with the Operator. If the Test requires the user to enter a Worklist then once completed it can be assigned to the Runtime software for immediate processing.
For some applications, it is possible to setup CCX to minimise the number of selections required to the absolute minimum and for Worklists to be created automatically simply based on the number of samples required.
A number of user programmable options control the way the instrument handles and warns the operator about liquid handling or barcode reading errors including Insufficient sample, reagents or controls. Other processing errors such as sample clots, unreadable codes offer a choice of Ignore, Automatic Retry, Skip etc. There are also a number of options to customise the handling of duplicated sample barcodes and also the option to program a number of required characters to be within a barcode denoting a specific Test or Plate code to ensure correct loading of the instrument.
There are two main applications suites namely, CCX and BGX and each has a slightly different emphasis and are therefore slightly different in scope. CCX, originally developed for IFA and ELISA applications, caters for pipetting tasks where sample specific processing is required e.g. where a worklist controls the number of dilutions of an individual sample. Whereas BGX, originally developed for Blood Grouping tests, is optimised for applications where a given sample is pipetted into multiple wells but where all the samples processed by a given test are all processed in the same way.
All processing actions are recorded in a number of time-stamped "Log" files and these record the barcode, step type, location, error handling code eg IV for insufficient volume, so the processing performed can be examined retrospectively if required. Any errors generated are also recorded separately in an Error Log file.
Error Monitoring and Error Recovery
In automated liquid handling things can go wrong for a variety of reasons. Some of the common errors include:
Barcode reading failures
The vast majority of errors are detected by the Beeline SX and will initiate an error recovery routine. The behaviour of the instrument in these situations is controlled by a number of user parameters within the software. For example, if an insufficient sample is detected, the instrument can be programmed to record an error in the log file and continue processing, Alternatively, it can stop processing immediately and sound an alarm.
In some procedures, it is appropriate to skip the error automatically and then to flag up all the errors as a group before proceeding with the next stage allowing the operator to decide whether to pipette individual samples manually or perhaps to to see if another aliquot is available. That way the number of operator interventions is minimised and hands-on time is minimised. Of course the choice is yours.