Best platform for robotic cell culture

I’ve heard through the grapevine that VANTAGE liquid handlers are great for -omics but really bad for cell culture. With so many hard-to-verify claims from self-proclaimed experts flying around, how do we quickly learn if something is actually true in our hands?

I can’t usually get more specific information without paying consulting fees.

As we grow this forum, we want to expose more issues in lab automation that only become apparent late into developing a process.

In the spirit of making lab automation more google-able:

Which robotic platforms were hard to use for cell culture in non-obvious ways? Have you experienced problematic edgecases in integrated hardware?

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I’ll start:

Our VSpin centrifuges occasionally eat plates, so we engineered in additional camera-based checks before centrifugation of our most precious samples.


What does the camera check for in this case? Is it operator controlled or is there computer vision?

operator controlled for now, sends a screenshot of the plate placement to my phone & I verify all is good before moving forward with protocol.

this can be fully automated with more labeled images of good/bad placement conditions, for now manual is faster

… more details on our 9-camera STARlet coming soon


I can’t get more specific information without paying exorbitant consulting fees

From Hamilton?

no, 3rd parties. depends how you define “exorbitant,” at the very least information like this should be available quickly

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I’d challenge the statement that VANTAGEs are ‘really bad’ at cell culture. We’ve automated most of our cell culture procedures now on STARs. I imagine a Vantage would be similar.


Of course, I am biased, but I have to agree with Gareth. We’ve automated plenty of cell culture systems globally on the STAR and VANTAGE platforms. Personally, I always enjoyed working on such applications as I think it plays to the strengths of our hardware (air displacement pipetting, options for handling larger volumes with 5mL channels and a 1 mL MPH96, tilt modules, etc.).

I recommend you reach out to your local Hamilton representatives to get a dialog going - we don’t charge a consulting fee and we can coordinate with third-party integrators as needed.

Please reach out to me directly if you need any help getting in touch with your rep!


I’d be surprised if there was anything inherent to the Vantage that was not good for cell culture.

One thing you might not have checked is the speed of the channels moving to different deck positions while they contain cells. This could have a huge effect on the viability of sensitive cells. I don’t know if this is controllable through firmware or otherwise, but for iSWAP the movement speed is controllable through firmware and this was found to be very important for stem cell culture.

My lab was doing embryo microinjections and the cells kept bursting right afterwards. This problem went on for a long time. It turned out the fix was placing the cells into media that contained hyaluronic acid after injecting which increases viscosity. Physical parameters like this are very important for stem cell survival.


I’ve done quite a bit of cell culture work (both ipsc and standard mammalian work) and had no problems that can’t be optimised away with a STAR. Main issue was working with larger well plates (24/12/6) and having the iSWAP throw cells into ridges and ruining the monolayer.

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Have you looked at Panasonic? iPS Cells Automated Culture System - YouTube

I feel like most major ALH companies have automated “solutions”, you just have to figure out which is the right one for you.

Check out each companies YouTube page to see if they have videos of their setups. Reach out to sales reps with your needs and they can connect you to the correct internal teams that can help you with your problem.

With that said, consultants are super useful and they can help you cut through the fat at a fraction of the cost. ALH companies use them, Google uses them, NASA uses them and anyone working at the true bleeding edge probably had a few on the payroll. Forums like this are great for sharing experiences but for actual execution, it doesn’t hurt to have some consultant contacts in your back pocket.

Finally things move so quickly in this field that what was true about a device or someone’s experiences 2 years ago may no longer be applicable. Hence it helps to partner and maintain good working relationships with vendors.


as a consultant in the automation space, with years of experience in designing automated systems to do a huge range of different applications - i’d be interested to talk with you

i hear about the “exorbitant” fees - and I try to work with clients to find a good fit for price,

as every automation system is different, I prefer to look at my fees as an investment for the client/lab in designing the right system, avoiding vendor “recommendations” that aren’t the right fit & blatant “price bloating” for various accessories that aren’t needed

a most recent “client” project was a quote from a well-known vendor, I was asked to appraise the details and found a lot of obvious issues, configuration problems, atrocious throughput mis-calculations (claims that weren’t even possible) & addition of about $45,000 of “accessories” that simply weren’t needed - the fee to this client was < 20 % of the savings we found,

the errors/issues in the quote would probably have yielded $100,000+ of delays/changes/further purchases, not taking into account the timeline delays for the entire project,

when buying a $1M+ solution, that could be a 12 month lead time, then >6 months of implementing - imagine another 3-6 months of delays that could have been avoided

these kind of savings are difficult to quantify at the start of a project - but for the sake of a small investment, it’s far better to have a battle-hardened, field experienced application scientist, turned consultant who is vendor agnostic review a proposal,

pls reach out and we can talk more specifics


there is currently no canonical repository of the minimum information required to build a cost-effective cell culture workcell - we can change this

such a resource can be made with the cooperation of talent/experience in this forum and has potential to help newcomers quickly drive progress in our field. a tide lifting all boats - what’s stopping us?


There’s also this solution:

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This is awesome. Simple and flexible. The Cytation in that example is probably the most expensive item…

And still a fraction of just a liquid handler

Have you worked with them at all? Any thoughts on their solution?

Haven’t worked with them - sorry!

its a tip based liquid handler. Im not sure anything would be better or worse at a specific activity. Its all moving tiny bits of liquid from one place to another.

The problems are cell dissociation differences (e.g. trypsin time and agitation) and problems with plates less that 96 wells. I try and avoid anything that requires tilting the plate for example.

Get creative on your approach and less focussed on instrument, would be my advice


Hi Ben,
Biosero has done several integrations in the cell culture space. This enables end to end automation where we can automate all the devices including incubators, washers, readers, etc. on a single platform. One approach that has worked with me in my current and previous roles is asking for references doing the same work. It often very valuable talking scientist to scientist, automation engineer to automation engineer about these capabilities.

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