Sample preparation is a crucial pre-step in analytical processes that involve isolation of desired components from complex and varied samples that cannot be directly handled by analytical instruments. Sample preparation technologies, particularly sample preparation workstations, are being increasingly adopted owing to the evolution in analytical technologies, miniaturization of instruments, benefits of automated sample preparation workstations, and growth in application areas for sample preparation technologies.
The currently available analytical technologies are being upgraded to provide increased specificity, accuracy, and sensitivity in the analysis. This product evolution witnessed in analytical technologies includes modification in gas and liquid chromatography systems to support short separation cycles, narrowing of the column bore to offer higher resolution, narrow peak width and fast run time, and improved capability of detectors to ensure faster characterization of peaks with increasing selectivity. Such changes in analytical technologies are paving the way for sample preparation technologies that provide high quality samples. Taking this into account, companies are engaged in upgrading as well as developing new sample preparation products. Owing to this, product innovation and new product launch have been the main strategies for players in sample preparation market. In 2013, Agilent Technologies, Inc. (U.S.) launched 4 new sample preparation products and upgraded one of its sample preparation work-bench. Technological advancements in sample preparation systems are moving towards the trend of miniaturization of the entire sample preparation workflow. Miniaturization of instruments facilitates their installation in small laboratories, thereby overcoming space constraints. QIAsymphony by QIAGEN N.V. (Netherlands) is one such example of miniaturized systems which provides an integrated automation of complete sample preparation workflows. The option of integration allows automatic transfer of samples processed on QIAsymphony SP to QIAsymphony AS, thus reducing manual handling steps and documentation.
Technologically advanced sample preparation workstations offer a large number of benefits over conventional methods of sample preparation. This factor is likely to drive the market for these instruments. Through the use of the automated method, samples can be prepared in about 15 to 20 minutes as opposed to 8 to 10 hours required by conventional methods. The solvent consumption in automated systems is reduced significantly by up to 80%. The automated systems, once set, can be left unattended thus providing the user with free time to perform other tasks. These systems are physically closed and conduct automated transfer of samples, reagents, solvents, and other fluids without involving human and air contact. Thus, the process reduces human errors as well as contamination of samples. The significant advantages provided by these products are likely to drive the market for automated sample preparation instruments as well as kits. However, the advanced features and functionalities result in the premium pricing of these workstations. The price of one workstation ranges from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on the level of sophistication involved. In addition, the systems, when provided with robotic arms, can cost more than $100,000. The high cost of these systems is an area of concern for pharmaceutical companies, as they require many such systems in their operations. Furthermore, owing to budget constraints, academic research laboratories find it difficult to afford these systems. In addition, the maintenance costs and several other indirect expenses result in an overall increase in the total cost of ownership of these instruments. Thus, end-users of sample preparation workstations are facing the challenge of delivering high-quality samples while carefully balancing the level of investment into the workflow.
Currently, various manufacturers are offering fully automated systems; some of these automated sample preparation workstations include Orbitor King Fisher (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc.), Chemagic STAR (Hamilton Company), and Q Prep Work Station (Questron Technologies Corp), among others.