Collaborating to realise the AutoCOL Colony Counters

After successfully collaborating to bring the AutoCOL Colony Counter to market, Synoptics sought further help from Labman to develop a more complex solution, the AutoCOL EM.
10 min read
Featuring comments from
Kate GeorgeSales & Technical Director
A blue medical instrument in a lab setting with a man just out of shot using the PC
As manufacturers of laboratory imaging systems, Synbiosis’ challenge was to automate the de-lidding and loading of petri dishes (plates) into an imaging cell. With limited expertise in moving robotics, they sought help elsewhere. Following the successful development and launch of the AutoCOL Colony Counter, a more complex solution was required, which could handle smaller consumables with locking lids.
The smaller plates meant a complete hardware redesign. The locking lids presented further engineering challenges to enable imaging of the agar without lids, which can condensate. The AutoCOL EM was designed, offering an impressive throughput and robust handling of 55mm plates. The first prototype is due for delivery to site this month.
The AutoCOL Colony Counters have become key systems in the Synoptics portfolio, providing their customers with automated solutions for efficient handling of plates, dramatically increasing throughput compared with manual operation.


increased productivitycompared with manual operation


minutes to process 100 platesThroughput offering to their customers, without the need to increase headcount

Synbiosis, a division of Synoptics, are microbiology imaging specialists based in Cambridge, UK. They are global leaders in the supply of automated systems for counting colonies and measuring inhibition zones.

What is AutoCOL

Kate George, Sales and Technical Director at Synbiosis, came to Labman owing to an existing relationship of building systems together. The AutoCOL Colony Counter was designed and built in collaboration to handle 100 90mm petri dishes in a single run. The system de-lids the plates, loads them into the imaging cell, re-lids, and saves the images, allowing traceability to the individual plate. It boasts an impressive throughput of 100 plates in less than an hour, status lights via an LED illuminated ring under the carousel and the software allows the user to set different parameters for lighting and exposure.

Labman worked closely with Synbiosis’ software team to produce the user interface for the instrument, which allowed integration with their existing image analysis software. Francesco Ferraro, Software Developer commented on both the structure, and aesthetic design of it;

"Personally as a software developer I was pleased by the overall design from an aesthetic point of view. It’s really fresh, it’s current, and as well from behind the scenes, overall the software was organised. I’m actually taking it as reference for how well structured it was, for other projects I am doing."
Francesco FerraroSoftware Developer, Synbiosis

AutoCOL was brought to market in 2022. Referring to the development of the project, Kate commented;

"The most important thing is that we can have a relationship with Labman, we’re able to talk to them. The design spec obviously doesn’t start as it finishes, so we needed to regularly make changes and have input with them."
Kate GeorgeSales & Technical Director, Synoptics

The next step

After a successful launch, Synbiosis were then approached by a customer with a specific and novel requirement - to handle 55mm plates with locking lids. Handling a different consumable type meant that not only did the hardware need to be redesigned from scratch, but it also threw up other automation challenges to deal with the locking lids.

Richard Edridge, Projects and Sales Manager for Synbiosis, commented on the benefits of being able to truly collaborate with the Labman team during the design phase on this project.

"“I’ve always liked working with Labman, because they allow me to share my own engineering insights. If I have a good idea they often will embrace it and see if it’s plausible. I’m really happy with the level of communication”"
A man's face, listening intently
Richard EdridgeProjects and Sales Manager, Synbiosis

The solution, the AutoCOL EM has reached prototype stage and is currently working at an impressive throughput of 48 plates per hour.

Labman have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Synbiosis team to produce the AutoCOL Colony Counting instruments. We look forward to collaborating on future projects, bringing more advanced technologies to market within this vital sector.