“I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening ? Plastics.” – The Graduate, 1967
Automated liquid handlers are very quickly (if not already there) becoming commodity products. While every liquid handling manufacturer claims certain features or twists on how they do things, ultimately they all do pretty much the same thing…suck and spit (keep it clean people, we’re running a blog here…) One sure sign of ‘commoditization’ is when third parties begin to offer accessories that compliment or compete with a particular product and in the case of liquid handlers, that most commonly means disposable pipette tips.
Wondering if there any performance or reliability issues associated with the use of third party tips? To be sure, original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) test and warranty their products using tips that they manufacture. It is reasonable then for them to discourage the use of third-party tips insofar as performance guarantees are concerned. Additionally, most of the OEM’s have made significant investments in the creation and maintenance of plastic injection molds that they or their supplier uses to stamp out their tips… so there is of course an understandable financial desire for them to want customers to purchase only OEM tips.
Insofar as periodic maintenance is concerned, end users should note that if they are performing routing CV checks (either gravimetrically or via a dye test), the tester needs to consider that differences in accuracy or precision may be affected by badly formed tips but that holds true regardless of who makes the tip.
However, it is not reasonable for an OEM to claim that the use of non-OEM tips “might” void the equipment’s warranty. That’s a bit of a scare tactic that upon further reflection speaks more directly to lost consumable revenue than the fear of tip induced hardware failure. I mean, if a tip gets stuck on a mandrel instead of getting shucked, I guess yeah, you could experience a crash that could damage the liquid handler. Crashes do happen but such occurrences are rare once a tip is in production as most of the third-party providers I have dealt with have very stringent QC programs. If you want to err on the side of caution, consider using OEM tips for new purchases and evaluate third-party tips once the warranty expires (usually 1yr).
Looking for alternative tip providers;
Corning/Axygen – Agilent/V11, Beckman Coulter, BioTek, Caliper/PE, Dynamic Devices, Hamilton, Molecular Devices, Tecan, Qiagen
Labcon – Beckman Coulter
Phenix Research – Agilent/V11, Beckman Coulter, Caliper/PE, Eppendorf, Molecular Devices, Tecan, Qiagen
Thermo Fisher/Molecular BioProducts – Agilent/V11, Beckman Coulter, BioTek, Caliper/PE, Molecular Devices, Tecan, Qiagen