I am curious about labware shapes, particularly about what we call “tabs” on microtiter plates. These tabs are small raised sections of a skirt on the long side of microtiter plates. I assume that someone decided that these were a good idea for some reason but for the life of me I cannot think of a positive effect these lend to the plate. In our hands, these “tabs” are creating nothing but chaos as the gripper teachings on our STAR must be absolutely dead on center +/1 1mm otherwise the plate flips around in the gripper.
So, automation experts, I ask: what are these for? Why do they exist? What are their purpose? Any tips on using labware with them when the tolerances with the gripping devices are so small? If someone has been in the lab automation game for a long long time and knows why these are a good thing, I’d LOVE to hear about it!
We are finding that more manufacturers than you’d think have these tabs on the plate. We are also a bit constrained by needing special coatings on the plates which limits our options. The plates are lidded when we are gripping and moving them so we have to grip lower to the skirt and our orientation won’t allow for landscape gripping.
I’ve always called them pinch bars and I find them quite useful when moving plates with lids. For plates with very skinny skirts (like the one in the photo) your robot cannot reliably pick it up by the skirt. So that leaves the area between the skirt and the lid for picking up a plate. If your lid is quite deep you may only have a few millimeters left for the robot to pick up the plate. Some robot fingers will actually be larger than the area you have left. In comes the pinch bar, this supplies an area for the robot finger to grip the plate when it has a lid and while still allowing a small skirt height.
What’s the purpose of a small skirt height? I don’t know, but most plates have a very small skirt. Costar plates are some of the few plates that I can think of that typically have a very tall skirt.