Patent number 8636459 is assigned to
The following quote was obtained by the news editors from the background information supplied by the inventors: "Many scientific and medical organizations, including industrial concerns, regulatory agencies, research laboratories, and academic institutions, have the need for secure storage of very large numbers, e.g., a few thousand up to multiple millions, of samples and specimens. Such fields include pharmaceutical, biotechnology, laboratory diagnostics, genomics, biological specimen banks, forensics, agrichemical and specialty chemical. Depending on the application, the sample sizes can vary from tens of microliters to several drams, which are stored in small, sealed plastic tubes or vials. These containers are retained in a rack that allows individual samples to be inserted or removed without removing an entire rack, or the tray the holds one or more racks. To extend the useful lifetime of the samples, they are stored in a controlled environment of low temperature (typically -20.degree. to -80.degree. C. or lower), low humidity, and inert gas (nitrogen), and are subjected to as little environmental variation as possible. In order to handle very large numbers of samples in the most efficient manner, a number of considerations must be made to enhance the system's flexibility and adaptability for different applications with the smallest possible footprint to minimize the use of valuable laboratory space.
"An overview of currently available compound storage systems and technologies is provided by Dr.
"Given the high costs of laboratory space, one area of focus in the design of storage systems in life science is how to make the system more compact while still retaining the ability to quickly access any sample for removal or storage.
"A typical automated storage system includes shelves with a robot that moves along an aisle between the shelves to place and retrieve samples. Examples of such 'narrow-aisle' storage systems include the SmaRTStore.TM. and CompactStore.TM. available from RTS Lifescience, and the HomeBase.TM. manufactured by TAP (
"In order to maximize the functional storage space, the area dedicated to the robotics should be minimized without sacrificing accessibility. The present invention is directed to such a compact storage system."
In addition to the background information obtained for this patent, VerticalNews journalists also obtained the inventor's summary information for this patent: "The inventive system modifies the conventional narrow aisle approach to sample storage by eliminating the aisle(s) between the shelves, instead storing the samples, typically in plates or trays, in closely spaced rows of adjacent stacks that are supported on a plurality of parallel sliding rails. The external structure (housing) and environmental control systems remain essentially the same as existing systems. The difference lies in the robotic handlers and close-packed arrangement of the storage stacks, providing for much higher storage density.
"A pair of coordinated robots is positioned with one robot on one side of the stacks to push the stacks within a selected row toward the other robot. The 'pushing' robot on one side of the row starts off with a stack supported in its support arms; this stack may be referred to as the 'starting stack'. The pushing robot pushes the starting stack into one end of the selected row, causing the row to shift toward the waiting receiving robot, which receives the stack at the opposite end of the row from the starting stack.
"The storage compartment is filled with a plurality of stacks that can be configured to hold plates, racks, or tubes. The stacks are slidably mounted within the storage compartment so that they are free to slide left and right within the storage area. Generally, the stacks will move only along the x-axis or only along the y-axis, but not in both directions. Regardless of whether movement is along the x- or y-axis, the pusher robots will be positioned on opposite sides of the axis of movement. The stacks can be arranged in any number of rows or columns (as viewed from the top), but more columns will increase the time to access an individual stack. More rows will not severely affect access time. On the other hand, more columns will increase storage density while more rows will not.
"The robotic mechanism on each side of the stacks is adapted to push a stack of trays from one side to the other along a given row. The stacks are preferably designed to slide on wear resistant, low friction plastic or polymer surfaces, such as PTFE (TEFLON.RTM.) or similar, without the need for expensive bearings or hardware. Rails or guides are positioned at one or both of the bottom and the top of the stacks to keep the rows aligned as the stacks move.
"A computer controller tracks the location of each stack, and each tray in each stack as the stacks are shifted. In a preferred embodiment, to minimize the time required for retrieving multiple samples stored at different locations in the array of stacks, the computer controller may prompt the user to enter all samples that are requested. The controller will identify the requested samples' current locations and determine a sequence of pushes that will bring all requested samples to the access port in the fewest steps.
"The pusher mechanisms can be linked (by cables, belts, or electronically) so that each is in the same position front to back. This will ensure that one is ready to receive a stack when pushed by the other.
"There must always be one stack more than the array of stacks, with the 'odd-stack-out' ('OSO') stack being held by one of the pushers. For example, if the array is 5.times.7, there would be 36 stacks; for a 6.times.6 array, there would be 37.
"In one aspect of the invention, a storage system for storing a plurality of samples includes a storage compartment having an access port, an array of stacks disposed within the storage compartment, the array of stacks comprising rows and columns of slidable stacks adapted for retaining sample containers, a plurality of guides extending along each row of stacks adapted for sliding the stacks parallel to the rows, a pair of robotic handlers disposed on opposite sides of the array of stacks, each robotic handler having a pushing mechanism, a drive mechanism for moving the pair of robotic handlers in a direction parallel to the columns, and a starter stack retained within a first robotic handler of the pair of robotic handlers, wherein the first robotic handler initiates a first push cycle by pushing the starter stack against a first end of a selected row of stacks so that a second stack on the second end of the row of stacks is received by the second robotic handler, the pair of handlers moves to a different row of stacks where the second robotic handler initiates a second push cycle by pushing the second stack into the second end of the different row, wherein the pair of robotic handlers repeat a plurality of push cycles until a selected stack containing a selected sample is positioned for access at the access port.
"In another aspect of the invention, a storage system for storing a plurality of samples includes a storage compartment having an access port, an array of stacks disposed within the storage compartment, the array of stacks comprising rows and columns of slidable stacks adapted for retaining sample containers, a plurality of guides extending along each row of stacks adapted for sliding the stacks parallel to the rows, a first robotic handler and a second robotic handler disposed on opposite sides of the array of stacks, each robotic handler comprising a pushing mechanism, a drive mechanism for moving the first and second robotic handlers between the rows of stacks, a starter stack retained within the first robotic handler, wherein the first robotic handler initiates a push cycle by pushing the starter stack against a first end of a selected row of stacks to displace a second stack from the selected row of stacks into the second robotic handler, and wherein the first and second robotic handlers execute a series of push cycles on different rows of stacks to reposition a selected stack from its starting location to a different location that is accessible from the access port."
URL and more information on this patent, see: Neeper,
Keywords for this news article include: Robotics,
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