Automated Vial Handler Meets Challenge

Written By:
Ward Palmer

Published in Assembly Magazine March 2006.

Varian NMR (Palo Alto, CA) manufactures nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy systems for pharmaceutical companies and university laboratories. The systems, which are used to test drugs and study the behaviors of organic compounds, include an 8-foot-tall superconducting magnet into which a test sample is placed and then irradiated. To spare scientists having to climb up and down a set of wooden step to place each sample--possibly hundreds of times in a day--Varian NMR includes a vial autoloader, designed and manufactured by automated systems builder Chad Industries (Anaheim, CA).

The loader, dubbed the 768AS Sample Transfer System, includes a pair of manipulators that take sample vials from a standard 96-sample vial holder, load them into a positioning collar known as a "turbine," and then load the turbine into the magnet.

Chad Industries equipped the system with two manipulators to ensure that it keeps pace with the spectroscopy system's maximum sample test rate. Specifically, while one manipulator is waiting to retrieve the vial from the magnet when the test completes, the second manipulator removes the previous test sample vial from its turbine and exchanges it with an untested sample.

Before being placed in the magnet, each vial goes through a thermal preconditioning station. The vials, which are made of glass and measure 100 by 5 millimeters, are also fragile, which means they must be handled delicately.

Because it operates in a highly magnetic environment, the 768AS system includes as little ferrous metal as possible. Chad Industries also created a Cartesian parallelogram structure featuring a two-axis stage that allows the loader's motors--the two most magnetic components of the system--to be located as far from the superconducting magnet as possible.

"The system provides us with the speed, accuracy and precision that we need to develop the complex sample handling strategies that are necessary for our project," says Bruce Lix, one of Varian NMR's customers at the University of Alberta (Alberta, Canada). "To my knowledge, this is the only solution on the market that can make that claim."

For more information on automated material handling, call 714-938-0080, visit or eInquiry 3.



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