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Everything You Need to Know About Labelling for Cryogenic Storage Part 2: Tube & Vial Label Automation

Everything You Need to Know About Labelling for Cryogenic Storage Part 2: Tube & Vial Label Automation

Research & Diagnostics, Labware Marking, Labware Automation, Price & Planning | 13 November 2019

Posted by Dave Harris

Everything You Need to Know About Labelling for Cryogenic Storage Part 2: Tube & Vial Label Automation

In part one of this series we covered a lot, from what cryo-labels are to where to find them and how to apply them. Now that you know just about everything you’ll ever need to know about cryo-labels, we can just wrap it up right here...

JUST KIDDING!

Actually, there’s a lot to cover when it comes to label application methods, so we felt like tube and vial automation and pre-barcoded tubes and vials deserve their own dedicated articles. In the final part of our series we also hope to help you find he ideal method for your facility.

Today, we’re going to start with tube and vial label automation. We’re going to discuss what it is, what it has to offer, where you can find labellers and what goes into the overall cost of equipment. So let’s get started!

What is a Tube & Vial Labeller?

Simply put, a tube and vial labeller is a piece of equipment designed to print and place a label onto a tube or vial. Automated tube and vial labellers vary in the level of human involvement required, with some that require the tube to be manually presented to the applicator, one at a time, while a button or foot-switch is utilised to signal application. Other pieces of equipment might require the operator to do as little as insert a couple thousand tubes or vials, press a button and return a few hours later.

What Can a Tube & Vial Labeller Do That Can’t Be Done By Hand?

No matter what label application strategy you employ, the end goal is the same—to get labels onto your containers, so what makes automation stand out? What can automation do that your team can’t do by hand?

Although a similar goal is met when labels are applied automatically, as when they are applied manually, that goal is met with increased speed, reduced physical effort, automatic scan verification (sometimes) and precision placement. Let’s take a look at what each of these can mean for your lab

Increased Throughput Speed

Many automated tube and vial label applicators can apply labels at least twice as fast as they can be applied manually, some even have application speeds under a second per tube! This allows samples to be processed faster, which depending on your needs, can lead to higher sample throughput or, more time to complete other core competency lab duties.

Reduced Physical Effort

The amount of labour required during the labelling process will be reduced which provides two major benefits to you and your team:

1. Less labour in labelling means less spend on labelling. By reducing the amount of labour required in labelling you can reallocate employees to more value added areas in the lab to save on labelling and increase efficiencies elsewhere.

2. Your employees no longer need to perform the mundane task of labelling, which is not only boring, but can lead to repetitive stress injury over time.

Automatic Scan Verification 

Some automated label applicators include automatic scan verification to ensure the accuracy of your labels as they are applied, either preventing mislabelling altogether or allowing mislabelled tubes to be disposed of before they are associated with a sample.

Precision Placement

Precise placement is assured when the equipment is designed to hold and place labels in exactly the same spot every time. Some equipment features placement tolerances as tight as .35mm, which would be nearly impossible to replicate or guarantee by hand.

Check out this blog to find out how you can improve   accuracy and efficiency with a change in your labelling strategy

Where to Buy an Automatic Tube & Vial Labeller?

A number of suppliers offer tube and vial label automation in varying operator involvement levels, precision tolerances and application speeds. Here we’re going to discuss a few suppliers you might come across during your research journey who we feel are worth checking out.

cab

cab is best known for their label printers, but they recently made the decision to introduce an automated tube and vial labeller to their product line.

The Axon 2, cab’s first ever tube and vial labeller, is a space and cost efficient tube and vial automation option for lower volume sample processing.

Scinomix

Scinomix provides laboratory automation equipment to customers in the life sciences field. Over the years, they have formed a standard line of equipment that can be tailored to better meet the needs of customers.

Among their line of equipment they offer a series of tube labelling equipment call the SCI-PRINT. The SCI-PRINT series includes three models with varying degrees of operator involvement.

Auto Labe

Auto Labe designs and manufactures both standard and custom label application automation solutions. They serve a wide range of industries including the medical and pharmaceutical fields.

They offer two fully automated desktop tube labelling solutions within their standard product line.

HERMA

HERMA is a supplier of labelling solutions located in Germany. They take great pride in their global presence and broad range of equipment.

Within their product line they offer four standard labelling solutions that are suitable for vial labelling.

Brooks Life Sciences

Brooks Life Sciences partners with scientists and clinicians to develop solutions that improve their workflows. Among their solution offerings is an automated tube and vial labeller that utilises print and apply automation.

BioMicroLab

BioMicroLab specialises in benchtop lab automation equipment, including tube labelling equipment.

They offer three tube and vial labellers with varying levels of operator involvement and throughput volume capabilities.

What about Computype?

At Computype we offer three standard tube and vial label applicators in addition to fully customised automation.

Our own TubePro, Flex TubePro and cab’s Axon 2 tube and vial labellers make up our standard product line These three options vary in features and cost to suit the varying applications and budgets of our customers. In case a customer isn’t able to find a solution among our standard offerings, the option to create a custom solution is also available. Let’s take a look at each of these options:

 

cab Axon 2

TubePro

Flex TubePro

Custom Automation

Print Technology

Thermal Transfer

Thermal Transfer

Thermal Transfer

Can vary, but we typically recommend thermal transfer

Resolution

300 dpi or 600 dpi

600 dpi

600 dpi

Up to 600dpi

Real Estate

Desktop

Desktop

Requires floor space

Variable, desktop or standing

Acceptable Tube Size Range

105mm max length

10-17mm max diameter

Nests can be customised to accommodate any size

Nests and discs can be customised to accommodate any size

Variable

Operator Involvement

Moderate-high

Moderate-high

Low

Variable, most often we create virtually operation free custom automation.

Processing Volume

Low

Low-Medium

High

Variable, but we most often custom design automation for high volume applications

Processing Speed

>2 Seconds per tube/vial

(varies depending on operator)

3-5 Seconds per tube/vial

(varies depending on operator)

>.5 Seconds per tube/vial

Variable, we work with you to accommodate your needs

Base Price

Less than $10,000

$35,000+

$88,000+

Based on scope

cab Axon 2

The Axon 2 is a low throughput volume tube and vial label applicator offering reduced operator involvement when compared to manual labelling. The operator places the tube or vial in the applicator arms, taps the touchscreen icon and the labelled tube is either dropped into the tray or removed by hand.

The Axon 2 was designed to include print and apply automation and can accommodate a range of tube and vial sizes.

  • Stick to your budget with this affordable print and apply option
  • Minimise the amount of labour required so your employees can focus on what’s most important
  • Integrate directly into your current workflow and LIMS system
  • Print linear or 2D barcodes, even at small scale with high resolution capabilities
  • Quickly and reliably print and apply unique labels to your tubes and vials
  • Reduce downtime with the intuitive interface and maintenance processes
  • Say goodbye to handwritten labels and economically upgrade your labelling process

axon2

Read the review to get our overall opinion on the Axon 2

TubePro

The TubePro is a low to moderate throughput volume tube and vial label applicator offering reduced operator involvement when compared to manual labelling. The operator simply places the tube in the applicator nest and application is triggered as the light curtain senses the operator removing their hand from the system.

Though the TubePro does feature print and apply automation, it can also accommodate pre-printed labels. Various tube and vial shapes and sizes can also be accommodated with specialised nests.

  • Speed up processes in your low-medium volume lab with semi-automatic application
  • Minimise the amount of labour required so your employees can focus on what’s most important
  • Integrate directly into your current workflow and LIMS system
  • Print linear or 2D barcodes, even at small scale with high resolution capabilities
  • Quickly and reliably print and apply unique labels to your tubes and vials
  • Reduce downtime with consistent and accurate label application
  • Reduce liability for repetitive strain injury, and ensure safety with the light curtain

TubePro Flex TubePro

The Flex TubePro is a high throughput volume tube and vial label applicator. It’s our fully automated option and requires minimal operator involvement. The tube and vial feeder system allows the operator to simply place up to 2,000 tubes or vials into the hopper, press a button and return to labelled tubes or vials within a couple hours.

For further efficiency improvements, the Flex TubePro is capable of being integrated into an automatic placer system—or other robotic equipment—for a fully automated workflow.

Though the Flex TubePro features print and apply automation, it can also accommodate pre-printed labels. Various tube and vial shapes and sizes can also be accommodated with specialised discs and nests.

  • Hands-free, high volume operation allows your employees to focus on what’s most important
  • Integrate directly into your current workflow and LIMS system
  • Print linear or 2D barcodes, even at small scale with high resolution capabilities
  • Quickly and reliably print and apply unique labels to your tubes and vials with little to no operator involvement
  • Reduce waste and downtime with accurate, high speed label application

Flex TVF + Tube Pro

Custom

If your practices won’t be accommodated by any of the above tube and vial labellers, you may want to discuss a custom option with our team.

With the help of our partners in the automation industry, we’ve been able to help a number of facilities tackle unique labelling challenges that are a little to niche to solve with a standard solution.

If you’re facing a challenge related to throughput or placement accuracy, are growing, and/or are struggling to find a solution among the standard options available, don’t hesitate to reach out about a custom solution.

Take a Look at our Tube and Vial Automation Page for More Info

How to Get the Most Out of Your Tube & Vial Labeller

Did you know that label automation typically requires specially engineered labels?

This is because the labels are peeled from the liner and applied to the tube differently by automated equipment than by hand.

The liner must be specially engineered to peel easily from the label and remain intact for re-rolling. The label material must be engineered to remain flat once lifted from the liner, but not be so rigid it can’t wrap around the tube. All while the adhesive must lift easily from the liner but firmly attach to the tube or vial.

Utilising labels that aren’t engineered for purpose can lead to loss of sample integrity if the labels can’t be applied properly by the equipment, or damage to the printer if adhesives ooze or liners tear.

In order to ensure your tube and vial labeller stays in the best shape possible we recommend you work with a trusted supplier to procure labels that were engineered to work with your automation solution and lab processes.

How Much Does a Tube & Vial Labeller Cost?

The costs of tube and vial automation equipment vary greatly, even our own product line ranges in cost from around $10,000 to upwards of $100,000!

With that being said, it should be clear that an article intended for people working at all kinds of labs can’t tell you how much your ideal automation equipment will cost. What we can tell you here is what factors will go into the cost of your automation solution.

Operator Involvement

The level of operator involvement required drives up the cost as the amount of required parts and convenience levels increase.

More automated equipment tends to be larger, as it features more parts and performs more tasks. While the increase in material drives up the cost, the increase in convenience provides additional value to the facility (unless they don’t have the throughput to support high level automation.)

Volume Expectations

Before deciding on an automation solution you should have an idea of what kind of throughput volumes you would like to see. Typically, this will be more than your facility is currently able to process.

Volume expectations can affect cost for three different reasons, operator involvement, application speed and the amount of equipment. We cover operator involvement and application speeds separately, so let’s talk about the amount of equipment.

In some cases, the volumes of tubes and vials necessary aren’t able to be labelled by a single tube and vial labeller so multiple might be purchased.

Application Speed

Almost every tube and vial applicator applies labels slightly differently, meaning the time it takes for the label to be applied varies. This could be because there is some operator involvement in the application process, the amount of time it takes for the tube to reach the applicator or just the way the label is applied.

Since high application speeds often provide higher value, higher speed automation often costs more.

Application Accuracy

Application accuracy is extremely valuable if automation is involved in downstream processes since scanners in automated devices rely on precisely placed barcodes for proper functioning. Automation equipment is almost always more precise than manual label application, though the application tolerance varies from machine to machine. If a certain level of tolerance is required for your application you may need to seek out a specific piece of equipment, and it may cost more than other less precise options.

Tube Size Accommodations

Some automation equipment can accommodate any tube or vial size, some can’t. Some equipment requires additional parts to accommodate different sizes, and some doesn’t. No matter what, the ability to accommodate different sizes is valuable and will likely add to your overall cost, whether that be due to needing multiple labellers, additional parts or a pricier model.

Customisations

Any custom alterations will add to the cost of your overall purchase. Additional parts, engineering, build time and testing are going to be required to accommodate special needs and ensure the full functionality of your custom equipment.

Your labelling strategy shouldn’t be holding you back from meeting your goals or growing your business. If your current process just isn’t fast or consistent enough to meet your needs, it might be time to consider an alternative, and tube and vial automation is just one upgrade to manual labelling—we look forward to telling you about another alternative in part 3!

We hope this part of our series was able to give you a better idea of what tube and vial automation is, what it can do, where you can find it and what goes into the cost and value of this equipment.

Our goal in this series is to cover everything you need to know about labelling samples for cryogenic storage, from what the process is like, to your options when it comes to getting it done. Next time in part 3, we want to tell you everything there is to know about pre-barcoded labware!

Read this blog to learn about or pre-barcoded labware program, READY Labware  Services

For now, we hope we were able to answer your questions about automated tube and vial labelling, but if you have more please leave them in the comments below!

If you have any specific questions regarding Computype’s tube and vial labellers,

Contact Our Sales Team Today

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Dave Harris

Based in Chicago, IL, Dave Harris has been with Computype for over 23 years in a variety of sales & leadership roles. As our Vice President of Strategic Accounts, Dave works with customers all over the globe to ensure tangible & consistent business benefits are realised. Focused on cost savings, operational efficiencies, and process optimisation, Dave’s role is to help customers get the most value from their automatic identification investment. In his spare time, Dave likes to golf, watch movies, and spend time outside with his dog, Yukon.

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