Liquid handlers, such as the Eppendorf 5075 I use to prepare DNA libraries, can be an immense help in the lab. Not only can they provide “lights-out” automation, freeing you to do something else, but they can make your work more reproducible.

Here are some ideas to make your liquid handling robot perform at its best:

Keep the Attached Computer “Clean” and Backed Up

If your robot is driven by a computer rather than a specialized device, have your IT staff help you keep it in tip-top shape. At a minimum, your liquid handling programs (and other data) should be backed up on a regular basis. That way, if the computer’s hard drive fails or is wiped by a virus, your backups may save the day. To prevent data theft and other intrusions, the computer should have anti-virus software, regular operating system patches, and other typical maintenance, just like any other computer—but make sure that doing so doesn’t go against the manufacturer requirements.

Clean Your Liquid Handler Periodically

You don’t want crud in the liquid handler. You should comply with your manufacturer’s guidelines, but I find it useful to do a weekly spot cleaning with isopropanol. I also clean obvious “dirtiness” as soon as possible and do a more thorough cleaning about once a month.

Regular Calibration and Servicing

If you have a contract, make sure to get it done. One of the purposes of a robot is to get reproducibility and accuracy. Out-of-calibration tools may not pipette accurately and an out-of-calibration robot arm may not pick up tools and judge distances correctly.

Before Using a New Tool or Fixture, Check the Terms and Conditions of Your Warranty and Service Contract

This is a tough one for me. I really want to fabricate another 96-well thermo plate for the robot so I can do that PicoGreen assay without re-loading the robot—but I can’t. The terms and conditions of our service contract require that I use only “approved” materials. If you use your own fixture or materials, your lab may be asked to pay the entire cost to repair the machine (rather than having the repair covered by the contract).

Don’t Put Things in the Way of the Robot

It’s very strong and it’s not human. If you stick out your hand to grab an object, your own nerves tell you when you touch something and your reflexes probably cause you to immediately reduce the force of your movement. Your robot may not work that way. That’s one of the reasons your robot is in an enclosure—to keep fragile humans from getting in its way. (And to keep contamination from getting into the samples? Yeah, that, too.)

You rely on your liquid handler to perform valuable work for you. Why not let the robot work its best for you? The guidelines in this article will help.