Custom project

Formulation Engine

A next-generation modular formulation system to transform your laboratory.
Labman custom system: Formulation Engine

Key features

DispensingDispensing via Labman's Material Dispensing Units (MDUs)
7 MDUs7 MDUs can be accomodated at once for high throughput
Plate FlippingPlate flipping to expose vial undersides
CrimpingElectronic crimper for vial crimping
Capping & DecappingVial capper and decapper can handle 7 vial types
Temperature ControlFormulations are temperature controlled and occur in a heated/cooled jacket


Overview

Advanced automation, advanced.

The Formulation Engine, created for Liverpool University’s Materials Innovation Factory, is the culmination of Labman’s 40+ years of experience in designing and building laboratory automation; a large, module-based, automated system that works with scientists to produce complex formulations quickly and efficiently.

Complete modularity

Designed to be future-proof and expandable, the Formulation Engine can accommodate up to 8 modules simultaneously, allowing for the creation of complex formulations, as well as increased throughput.

Dispensing Module

Dispensing Module

The Module dispenses liquids and powders from Mobile Dispensing Units (MDUs) and liquid from 4 internal reservoirs. These materials are dispensed into polypropylene pots (125ml or 350ml capacity), glass vials (40ml, 12ml or 4ml capacity) or 6ml glass powder boats (powder only). Dispensing is controlled by weight on a four-place balance.

Collaborative workflow

Up to seven MDUs can be loaded into the module, either by the Formulation Engine or by hand, and the Formulation Engine loads pots/vials/boats into the module. Dispenses are made from the MDUs or from 4 syringe pumped internal reservoirs into the consumables which are moved under the dispensers on a robotically driven balance.

Powder boats are stored in a dried air enclosure inside the module to prevent powders absorbing moisture. A vacuum arrangement is used to clean used power boats after they are returned by the Formulation Engine. Failure to clean a boat adequately is detected by comparing weights.

Inert Processing Module

Inert Processing Module

Vials are loaded into the system in SBS plate format by the formulation engine robot arm. The plates are transferred into the robot through an airlock. In order to allow solvents and other flammables to be dispensed safely, the system only runs in an atmosphere below 5% oxygen. An additional very low oxygen (below 0.05%) mode is available if the experiment requires an inert atmosphere. The enclosure can be purged using either nitrogen, argon, or carbon dioxide.

Collaborative workflow

The system consists of a cantilevered XYZ arm which moves consumables between nine processing stations; a powder dispenser, liquid dispensing needles, a subsampling needle with wash, gas capping needles, a gas sparging needle, a vial capping/de-capping station, a vial crimper, a heated orbital shaker and an ultrasonic bath.

Triple overhead mixer module

Triple overhead mixer module

3 different formulations are produced in polypropylene pots (either 125ml or 350ml capacity) simultaneously. Formulations can be mixed, either with a paddle or high shear mixer, and the temperature of the pot can be controlled. Dispensing is either by internal syringe, pre-weighed powder boat or via a Mobile Dispensing Unit (MDU) controlled by weight on a three-place balance.

Increased mixing possibilities

The Formulation Engine loads pots into a heater jacket. The mixer assembly, with mixer, pH/temperature probe and homogeniser (for high shear mixing), is lowered into the pot. Powders are added using a powder boat (filled by other modules), while liquids are dispensed either by an MDU (loaded on the balance on the module by the Formulation Engine) or using a syringe pump connected to an onboard tank.

When each formulation has been produced, the mixer geometry is removed from the pot and washed in the wash bath below it, either with hot water or solvent from two 20 litre onboard tanks.

Photocatalysis Module

Photocatalysis Module

As the Formulation Engine is modular, new modules can be added at any stage. The photocatalysis module is the first additional module to be commissioned by the University of Liverpool for the Materials Innovation Factory (MIF). for the Formulation Engine; a Labman system designed for material creation and discovery, commissioned.

Automated material creation and discovery

The module receives SBS plates from the Formulation Engine and then moves them under a solar simulator to irradiate their undersides and catalyse reactions within the vials. This is done on a shaking bed to prevent the vial contents from binding together. After exposure, gases from the headspace of the vials are sampled by the module and passed to an on-board mass spectrometer which identifies the gases present. This module will be used to discover and test new materials that could give us the ability to produce Hydrogen fuel from just water and sunlight.

Like all of the modules created for the Formulation Engine, the technology within this module can easily be made into a standalone system.

Bespoke design. Custom build.

As with any Labman system, the Formulation Engine was designed and built in our HQ in the UK to meet the exact specifications of Liverpool University. Each module is similarly built to requirements to ensure that the scientists and laboratory technicians who work with the system have all the tools they need at their disposal to create great formulations.

Images

Yellow robot arm in formulation engine
Yellow robot arm in formulation engine
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