Outsourced Tube Labeling

The Problem

One of the world’s largest agricultural products companies are investing significantly on is developing seeds that produce grain and vegetables that better address the issue of world hunger. In 2011, some analysts stated that our ever-growing global population of 7 billion could reach a peak of 10 billion people by the year 2100. To help forestall what appears to be a doomsday scenario, leading agricultural companies are seeking ways to help. Computype recently began working with a company that is investing in understanding the genetic properties of plants so that crop yields will improve, plant diseases will be resisted, and droughts will be survived. Laboratory automation is playing a key role in enhancing product development and preventing spurious results.

The Solution

To ensure the reliability of test results and to determine what’s working in the field and why, a sophisticated barcode tracking system is being installed, replacing a time-consuming and costly manual process. First, uniquely numbered barcode tubes are provided to “breeders,” the distributors of feed and seed to farmers.  (Computype manages multiple steps of the process including, pre-labeling the tubes, and the logistics of distribution.) Each tube contains multiple replications of a 2-D barcode on the side, and an identically-encoded symbol on the tube bottom. The top portion of the tube is illustrated nearby.

Using Automation to Grow More Food

Each tube is placed individually into a device that dispenses, by request, a specific number of seed samples. This system simultaneously scans the barcode on the side of the tube, and the seed packet of origin. Because of the repetition of the barcode symbols around the tube, a specific orientation in the labeling/reading/dispensing device is not required, thus increasing throughput, and decreasing the likelihood of repetitive motion strain on the operator of the station.

Each filled tube is placed into a specially-designed box with dividers that create individual slots to accommodate 96 samples. The boxes are then sent to a central lab for testing. We also provide the back-end logistics in the form of a return kit ready for the breeder to ship to the processing center. We developed the system that provides a pre-printed shipping label addressed to the closest genomic processing center based on the breeder’s geographic location and most cost-effective shipping method. And to close that loop, we manage the billing for this process.

The boxes containing the tubes have 96 holes in the bottom that match the location of the symbols on the bottom of the tubes. This enables the contents of the entire box to be scanned by an embedded reader at the central lab. Once received, processed, and scanned, the system maps the sample locations against a 96-slot matrix, adds a buffer solution, and shakes the box to help extract genetic material. Next, a predetermined amount of genetically-laced solution is extracted simultaneously from all tubes within the box and deposited into a 96-hole microwell plate. (Just prior to the extraction process, the next empty microwell plate is picked by a robotic arm, the unique identifier of the box destined for this plate is scanned by the automation and has a replicated label printed and applied by a custom-programmed label printer-applicator). The result of this process is complete sample miniaturization and is genomic extraction, now ready for analysis.

With a solid chain-of-custody and an automated system that can quickly handle millions of samples, the company benefits from reliable test results, focused product development, and operational efficiencies. Computype’s READY Labware Services program was the ideal solution for this project. We pre-label all the tubes, distribute them to more than two dozen breeder sites throughout the world, and ensure that there’s a consistent supply at every location. The number of tubes labeled annually will eventually be in the tens of millions—a huge burden removed from a customer whose expertise lies elsewhere.