Pipette –  The Primary Laboratory Measurement Tool

Laboratory scientists use piston-operated volumetric apparatus, otherwise commonly referred to as pipettes, every day, while developing drugs and therapies, or to provide critical diagnostic test results. The objective is clear: to improve the lives of many through good science. Pipettes are the laboratory ‘tool’ that provides scientists with an ability to measure very small volumes of liquid with a very high degree of accuracy and precision.  When pipetting performance is high, the science can advance effectively. But when pipetting performance is low, test results are affected, often leading to costly rework.

Poor Pipette Performance = Pipette Errors
Assay rework is a commonly occurrence in the lab. Since science is about reproducibility, test results are often repeated for confirmation. However, when rework is caused by poor or inconsistent measurement performance, results can be difficult to confirm and testing costs can rise significantly.

Sources of Pipette Error
Improper Type of Pipette: Poor pipette performance has several primary sources. Pipettes that are used to measure liquids they were not designed to measure, often leads to pipette errors.  For example, air displacement pipettes are great for aqueous liquids, whereas positive displacement models are ideal for viscous and corrosive liquids.

Pipette Tip is Not Validated: Unless you use the same brand of pipette tip as the pipette, measurement performance cannot be assured. With universal tips, the common misconception is that they work well with any pipette brand. Since these tips are all different, they fit on a pipette at different sealing points, which results in different measurement accuracies. Having your universal-fit pipette tips performance tested by an ISO 8655 compliant calibration provider is the best way to ensure your pipette tips are right for your pipette and do not cause unexpected pipetting errors.

The Wrong Calibration Service Provider: Pipette calibration service providers are often perceived as similar, yet an onsite pipette service provides a very different measurement service than the standard-based calibrations service of a laboratory-based pipette calibration provider. The availability of sufficient tools, parts, test equipment and environment controls provides calibration with low measurement uncertainty.  A detailed preventative maintenance service from laboratory calibration providers provides high measurement assurance throughout the calibration cycle.

Incorrect Use in the Lab: Finally, the largest source of pipetting error in the lab is caused by the pipette users. Poor or inconsistent user technique translates very easily to poor and inconsistent test results. Even a high end pipette brand, used with performance-tested pipette tips and calibrated by an ISO 17025 accredited provider to ISO 8655 performance standards cannot counter the inaccuracies and poor reproducibility of a poor pipette user.

The Remarkable Cost of Pipette Error
In the following laboratory scenario, cost estimates are assigned to reflect the impact of a single pipette error on a lab budget, then expanding those costs throughout the laboratory staff. Actual costs may vary, but the impacts are clear. For diagnostic labs, sample loss from pipette error could be detrimental to the testing process and the patient.

Error Prevention
The simple solution is for labs to first realize these costs and invest in pipette error prevention. By reducing pipette errors, you thereby reduce test and development costs.

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