40,000 genetic tests per day
Dutch company Synchron Lab Automation has made a breakthrough in the extraction of plant DNA. Its new system can perform up to 40,000 genetic tests in 24 hours. Festo provided comprehensive support for the project in the form of hardware and engineering know-how.
Since its foundation in 1985, Synchron Lab Automation has become a leading provider of software and solutions for laboratory automation. The close collaboration with Festo in the design and manufacture of an automated DNA extraction system represents an important milestone in the company’s development. “We only used to focus on the concept of a solution and then had it built by a partner,” explains Derk Wilten, owner and managing director. “We’ve now launched our first inhouse designed product with engineering know-how and components from Festo.”
Identifying, transporting, extracting
The automated DNA extraction system is used by Dutch company VHL Genetics for seed treatment, but is also offered as a service to other companies. The system extracts DNA from shredded plant material. The process begins with a microwell plate holder which accommodates up to 400 plates – 200 for input and 200 for output. At the beginning of the cycle, a bar code reader scans all the microwell plates. Electric axes EGC, in combination with a semi-rotary drive DRRD and a gripper DHPS, pick up the microwell plates and place them on carriers which move through the various stations on a transport system. Coded metal micro-spheres known as magnetic beads are added to separate the DNA from the other material.
The DNA attaches itself to the magnetic beads, while the rest of the material floats up in the microwell plates. Liquid is added to and extracted from the microwell plates at several washing stations. The pipetting head is lowered by an electric slide EGSC during this process. What remains is clear DNA. The transport system feeds the DNA to the final processing step, namely DNA extraction. The pipetting head for extracting the DNA is operated using electric axes EGC in combination with an electric slide EGSL. Each plate has 96 samples. The extraction process takes 20 minutes from start to finish, and a new plate can be started every 2.5 minutes.
State of the art
The modular control system CPX-E and valve terminals VTUG with IO-Link® are used to control the system. To ensure a straightforward combination of the control unit with the electric drive, Synchron was supplied with a CPX-E used as a remote I/O system or PLC with EtherCAT® master controller and motion controller before it was even available on the market. The machine has a serial and modular design with almost no switching delays. The open platform technology also allows the system to be adapted for the purification of human and animal cells. Niels Kruize, who is responsible for Business Development at Synchron Lab Automation, is very pleased that the results of the development process have exceeded his expectations: “The collaboration provides us with tremendous added value; it is a true partnership for both sides. We discuss the use of new technologies together and the opportunities they offer.”
Festo is a global player and an independent family-owned company with headquarters in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany. The company supplies pneumatic and electrical automation technology to 300,000 customers of factory and process automation in over 35 industries. The products and services are available in 176 countries. With about 21,000 employees in over 250 branch offices in 61 countries worldwide, Festo achieved a turnover of around €3.07 billion in 2019. Each year around 8% of this turnover is invested in research and development.
In this learning company, 1.5% of turnover is invested in basic and further training. Yet training services are not only provided for Festo’s own staff – Festo Didactic SE also supplies basic and further training programmes in the field of automation technology for customers, students and trainees.