CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. Ser. No. 09/955,554, filed on Sep. 18, 2001, now pending, which is a continuation of U.S. Ser. No. 09/251,232, filed on Feb. 16, 1999, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,432,719, issued on Aug. 13, 2002, and also claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/318,098 filed on Sep. 7, 2001 and U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/332,961, filed on Nov. 19, 2001. The disclosure(s) of the above applications are incorporated herein by reference.
The present invention relates to the storage and dispensing of substances. More particularly, the invention relates to providing a system and a method for storing and retrieving vessels.
In chemical and biological laboratories, storage and retrieval of vessels containing DNA or other substances is generally a tedious and time consuming task. Each vessel requires identification that must be tracked throughout its processing. Existing manual and automated mechanisms to store and retrieve vessels containing DNA or other substances are thus relatively inefficient and cumbersome.
In one of the various embodiments, a system for storing and dispensing a plurality of vessels includes an array of storage silos or passages, a retrieval robot and a reload robot. The array of storage passages store a plurality of vessels and have a dispensing end and a reloading end. The retrieval robot is positioned adjacent to the dispensing end and retrieves at least one vessel from at least one passage in the array of storage passages. The reload robot is positioned adjacent the reload end and reloads at least one vessel into at least one passage of the array of storage passages.
In another of the various embodiments, a system for storing and dispensing a plurality of vessels includes a first corrugated sheet and a second corrugated sheet. The first corrugated sheet defines a first plurality of grooves. The second corrugated sheet defines a second plurality of grooves. The first corrugated sheet interlocks with the second corrugated sheet to define a storage module having a plurality of separate silos or passages, which receive the plurality of vessels.
In another of the various embodiments, a method for storing and dispensing a plurality of vessels is provided. The method includes providing a plurality of corrugated sheets, interlocking the plurality of corrugated sheets to form a plurality of storage silos or passages, loading the plurality of vessels into the plurality of storage passages, and dispensing at least one of the vessels from at least one of the storage passages by allowing gravity to slide the at least one vessel out of at least one storage passages.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Further areas of applicability of the present invention will become apparent from the detailed description provided hereinafter. It should be understood that the detailed description and specific examples, are intended for purposes of illustration only and are not intended to limit the scope of the invention.
The various embodiments of the present invention will become more fully understood from the detailed description and the accompanying drawings, wherein:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a matrix storage system according to one of the various embodiments of the present invention;
FIGS. 2A and 2B are side and perspective views of a 1.4 ml matrix tube;
FIGS. 3A-3C are side and perspective views of a well plate;
FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a matrix storage module according to one of the various embodiments of the present invention to be used in the matrix storage system of FIG. 1;
FIGS. 5A-5B are front and side views of an array of silos or passages incorporated into the matrix storage module of FIG. 4;
FIGS. 6A-6C illustrate the releasing of a tube from the array of silos shown in FIGS. 5A-5B;
FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a retrieval robot used in association with the matrix storage module of the matrix storage system of FIG. 1;
FIG. 8 is a side view of an end-effector of the retrieval robot shown in FIG. 7 in association with the silos shown in FIGS. 5 and 6;
FIG. 9 is a side view of an end-effector of a reload robot in association with the storage silos of the matrix storage system of FIG. 1;
FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a matrix storage system according to one of the various embodiments of the present invention;
FIG. 11 is a perspective view of a storage rack module used in the matrix storage system of FIG. 10;
FIG. 12 is a perspective view illustrating in further detail the storage rack module of FIG. 11;
FIG. 13 is a perspective view of a single corrugated sheet forming a portion of the silos in the storage rack module of FIG. 11;
FIG. 14 is a perspective view of the corrugated sheets interlocked into a honeycomb bank or array of silos;
FIGS. 15A and 15B are front and side views of a lever positioned at the end of each silo to prevent tubes from falling out;
FIGS. 16A-16C are side cross-sectional views illustrating a tube being extracted from a silo by a trigger device;
FIG. 17 is a side view of a retrieval robot operating underneath the system and a reload robot operating independently above the system;
FIG. 18 is a perspective view of the retrieval robot illustrating X-Y set of large slides to locate a trigger device underneath a silo and two small X-Y slides to locate any well of six well plates underneath the trigger device;
FIG. 19 is a perspective view of a rack stacker used to unload and stack filled well plate pallets from the retrieval robot;
FIG. 20 is a perspective view of a pallet with six well plates;
FIG. 21 is a perspective view of a tube gun, which blows replacement tubes through a hose into the reload robot; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE VARIOUS EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 22 is a perspective view of the reload robot head, which slows tubes with belts before loading an empty silo.
The following description of the various embodiment(s) concerning a matrix storage and retrieval system are merely exemplary in nature and are not intended to limit the invention or its application or uses. Moreover, while the present invention is described in detail below, generally with respect to transferring DNA stored in multiple vessels or tubes to well plates, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that the present invention is clearly not limited to only transferring DNA in tubes, but may be applied to transferring other types of substances and biopolymers in other types of containers, including solids, liquids and gases. Finally, it should further be noted that the dimensions, times, values, and amounts set forth herein are merely exemplary in nature and any variation in these values is contemplated by the various embodiments of the present invention.
Referring to FIG. 1, a matrix storage system 10 according to one of the embodiments is shown. The matrix storage system 10 is used to store and retrieve a large number of vessels (for example, 3,000,000 vessels) of DNA and/or other materials as is desired to the user. As will be more fully discussed below, the matrix storage system 10 includes a first matrix storage module 12, a second matrix storage module 14, a third matrix storage module 16, a fourth matrix storage module 18 and a fifth matrix storage module 20. The first matrix storage module 12, second matrix storage module 14, third matrix storage module 16, and fourth matrix storage module 18 are referred to as Alpha modules, while the fifth matrix storage module 20 is referred to as a Bravo module. Each of the storage modules 12-20 can store a large number of vessels or tubes containing DNA as will be more fully discussed below. For example, the storage modules 12-20 may each store 600,000 tubes corresponding to 20,000 unique DNA samples. While four Alpha modules and one Bravo module are shown with the matrix storage system 10, any combination of matrix storage modules may be used in the matrix storage system 10.
Matrix storage system 10 further includes a first retrieval robot 22 associated with the Alpha modules and a second retrieval robot 24 associated with the Bravo module. The matrix storage system 10 further includes a first reload robot 26, associated with the Alpha modules, and a second reload robot 28 associated with the Bravo module. Positioned at either end of the matrix storage system 10 is a first service robot 30 and a second service robot 32. A track 34 is provided for robot mobility of the retrieval robots 22 and 24 and a track 36 is provided for mobility of reload robots 26 and 28. As will be more fully discussed below, the first and second retrieval robots 22 and 24, are used to retrieve tubes containing DNA samples from the matrix storage system 10, while the first and second reload robots 26 and 28 are used to load new tubes containing DNA samples into the matrix storage system 10. In addition, the first and second service robots 30 and 32 are used to support the retrieval robots 22 and 24 and the reload robots 26 and 28 also as discussed below.
As more fully discussed below, the vessels or tubes 54 (as shown in FIGS. 2A and 2B) that are retrieved by the first and second retrieval robots 22 and 24 are individual vials or vessels that are used to store frozen DNA. The tubes 54 are delivered to the well plates 66 (as shown in FIGS. 3A-3C) by the first and second retrieval robots 22 and 24. The well plates 66 are plastic racks that holds a large number of tubes 54. The tubes 54 may be Trakmate 1.4 ml tubes and the well plates 66 may be a Matrix 96 well plates, both supplied by the Matrix Corporation. However, it is to be understood that any other suitable tubes and well plates may be used. In addition, the well plates 66 holding the tubes 54 may be used to receive reagents from a system, as set forth in U.S. Pat. No. 6,432,719, which is hereby incorporated by reference.
The first service robot 30 collects well plates 66 containing DNA in the tubes 54 from the first retrieval robot 22, scans identifying codes of all the tubes 54 in the well plates 66 retrieved by the first service robot 30 using a scanner, stacks the well plates 66 and load an empty well plate 66 into the retrieval robot 22, further discussed herein. The identifying codes are etched into the bottom of each tube, and are used to uniquely identify each product type within the tubes 54. For example, the identifying codes may be 2D bar codes, which correspond to a random non-repeating number that identifies the product type. The scanner is used to scan all of the identifying codes on the tubes 54 in well plates 66 at once. The scanner, which is used to read the identifying codes, may be a Matrix scanner available from Matrix Corporation, however other suitable scanners may be used. The service robot 32 will independently service the second retrieval robot 24 in a like manner.
A central computer (not shown) receives and processes customer requests, coordinates and optimizes movements of all robots, and maintains and updates an inventory database. An inventory database, such as one based upon an Oracle database, continuously maintains an exact number of tubes per DNA set, including age, volume, and production-manager for DNA in each tube. The central computer sends out re-order messages to the DNA synthesis factory when the inventory of tubes 54 reaches six or less tubes for a particular DNA set.
Returning now to FIG. 4, the matrix storage module 12 is shown in further detail, with the understanding that each matrix storage module 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 are substantially similar. The matrix storage module 12 is about 1.5 meters (5′) wide×3 meters (10′) high×1 meters (3′) deep. The matrix storage module 12 includes a base 38 having wheels 40, enabling the matrix storage module 12 to roll. The matrix storage module 12 further includes a frame 42 that supports 20,000 silos 44; 100 silos high×200 silos wide. Each silo or passage 44 can hold as many as thirty stacked matrix tubes, further discussed herein. Each matrix storage module 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 are self refrigerated at a constant −20° C. by two independently operated refrigerator units. A first refrigerator unit 46 is located in the rectangular volume at the top of the module 12 and a second refrigerator unit 48 is located in the rectangular volume at the bottom of the module 12. If one refrigerator unit 46 or 48 fails, the other unit is capable of maintaining the required temperature by itself. Here again, the dimensions and temperatures are merely provided as exemplary values and other size storage modules, as well as different temperatures and storage capabilities may be used.
Referring now to FIGS. 5A and 5B, an array of silos or passages 44 are shown in a front view and a side view, respectively. Each silo or passage 44, may be, for example, 1.35 meters long and oriented in the matrix storage module 12 at about 45° to horizontal with a lower end 50 of each silo in the front of the module 12. Each silo 44 is in the shape of a rhombus with each side 1-centimeter long and two corners in the horizontal plane at about 0.6-centimeters apart, and two corners in the vertical plane at about 1.6-centimeters apart (see FIG. 5A). The silos 44 share walls, such that 100 high×200 wide assemble into a silo array of about 1.2 meters wide×1.6 meters tall.
Each silo or passage 44 has its own lever 52 that releases one, and only one tube 54 (see FIGS. 2A-2B) when triggered. In its un-activated state, a spring 56 applies a constant force pushing the front end 58 of the lever 52 down on the first tube 54, preventing any tubes 54 from releasing (see FIG. 5B). To release a tube 54, one of the retrieval robots 22 and/or 24 exerts a trigger force opposite and greater than the spring force, pushing up the front end 58 of the lever 52 and releasing the first tube 54 (see FIG. 6A). Simultaneously, the back end 60 of the lever 52 is pushed down on the second tube 54, holding it in place. When the trigger force is removed, the spring 56 again pushes the front end 58 of the lever 52 down and the rear end 60 of the lever 52 up, allowing gravity to slide the tubes 54 down the silo 44 (see FIG. 6B). The lead tube 54 is prevented from the leaving the silo 44 by the front end 58 of the lever 52 (see FIG. 6C).
Turning to FIGS. 7-8, the retrieval robot 22 is shown in further detail in relation to the storage module 12 with the understanding that the retrieval robot 22 is substantially similar to the retrieval robot 24. The retrieval robot 22 aligns a trigger 62 (see FIG. 8) with a particular silo or passage 44, triggers the release of a tube 54, and aligns a particular well 64 of a well plate 66 (see FIGS. 3A-3C) to receive the tube 54. The retrieval robot 22 has two axes of motion 68 and 70, allowing it to access any silo 44 in any of the matrix storage modules 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 (see FIG. 7). One axis of motion 68 is implemented with a motor 72 that moves the robot 22 along the fixed track 34 and another motor 74 moves the end-effector 76 (see FIG. 8) of the robot 22 up and down a vertical post 78, attached to the robot base 80. The track 34 and post 78 are positioned in front of the silo 44 so the trigger 62 is always the same distance from a silo 44 when the robot 22 aligns to it (see FIG. 8).
A camera 82 on the end-effector 76 calibrates the horizontal and vertical alignment of the retrieval robot 22, relative to an alignment spot on each storage module 12, 14, 16, 18 and/or 20. Calibration may need to be performed each time the retrieval robot 22 moves from one storage module to the next.
A laser sensor 84, also mounted on the end-effector 76, counts the number of tubes 54 released from a silo 44 during retrieval. If other than one tube 54 is counted, an error message stops the retrieval robot 22 and notify maintenance. The sensor 84 includes a laser positioned, such that its beam 86 passes through the opening of a funnel 88 to illuminate a photodiode 90. When a passing tube 54 blocks the beam 86, the diode's 90 electrical output is reduced for a time corresponding to the number of tubes 54 passing.
The end-effector 76 of the retrieval robot 22 supports the trigger 62 and two plate mover motors 92 and 94 positioned on the plate robot 96 attached to the retrieval robot 22 at approximately 45° (see FIG. 8). The trigger 62 may be magnetic or mechanical with electromagnetic shown. When the retrieval robot 22 is aligned with the designated silo or passage 44, the electromagnet 62 is turned-on attracting the desired lever 52 upwards to release one tube 54. The released tube 54 directly slides by gravity into the funnel 88 that aligns the tube 54 to fall into the well 64 in the well plate 66. The two motors 92 and 94 on the end-effector 76 position the plate 66, such that the tubes 54 falls into a particular well 64, one motor 92 for row placement and the other motor 94 for column placement.
As discussed above, the first retrieval robot 22 is assigned to the Alpha modules 12, 14, 16 and 18 and the second retrieval robot 24 is assigned to the Bravo module 20. However, in the event of mechanical failure of a retrieval robot 22 or 24, the track 34 layout will enable either retrieval robot 22 or 24 to independently access any silo 44 in any module 12, 14, 16, 18 and/or 20. The tracks 34 are also modular, allowing easy disassembly and transport.
The service robot 30 extracts a filled well plate 66 from the retrieval robot 22 and replaces it with an empty one. It also scans the identifying codes on all of the tubes 54 in a filled well plate 66 and stacks the filled plate 66 for shipment. The service robot 30 is a standard robot 30 with a standard plate gripper, end-effector.
The reload robot 26 will now be discussed with the understanding that reload robot 28 is substantially similar. With reference to FIGS. 1 and 9, the reload robot 26 aligns a reload silo or passage 100 to a depleted silo or passage 44 and releases up to twenty-four (24) replacement tubes 54 into the depleted silo 44. The reload robot 26 is constructed the same as the retrieval robot 22, except that it operates in the rear of the modules 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 and has a different end-effector 102 (see FIG. 9). The end-effector 102 for the reload robot 26 has several reload silos or passages 100, each capable of holding twenty-four (24) tubes 54, with the understanding that various size reload silos or passages 100 can be provided holding any number of tubes 54. Each reload silo 100 has a metal trigger 104 to release all of the tubes 54 in a reload silo 100 when current is applied to an electro-magnet 106 above the trigger 104 to attract and move the metal trigger 104.
A camera 108 on the end-effector 102 calibrates horizontal and vertical alignment of the reload robot 26 relative to an alignment spot on each storage module 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20. Calibration may need to be performed each time the retrieval robot 26 moves from one module to the next.
A laser sensor 109, also mounted on the end-effector 102, counts the number of tubes 54 released into a silo 44 during reload. If other than the number of tubes 54 in the transport silo 100 is counted, an error message stops the reload robot 26 and notifies maintenance. The sensor includes a laser 109 positioned such that its beam 110 passes through the ends of several transport silos 100 to illuminate a photodiode 112. When a passing tube 54 blocks the beam 110, the diode's 112 electrical output is reduced for a time corresponding to the number of tubes 54 passing through the transport silo 100.
During operation, the central storage computer orders replacement tubes 54 when the number of tubes 54 on a particular silo depletes below a specified number, e.g. six tubes, as discussed above. The replacement order initiates synthesis of the product and ultimately the arrival of a lot of replacement tubes 54 at the site of the matrix storage system 10. The lot of replacement tubes 54 may be any number of tubes 54 that is commercially desirable. For example, the lot may be eighteen (18) tubes for the Alpha modules and twenty-four (24) tubes for the Bravo modules, the difference being the dilution or practical division of the DNA products between each lot after synthesis. A lot of replacement tubes 54 arrive in a single 1.35 meters long and one centimeter diameter transport pipe, and all tubes within the lot having the same DNA set. A technician empties all of the replacement tubes 54 inside a transport pipe into one of the reload silos or passages 100 while maintaining the order of the tubes. When all of the reload silos 100 are loaded, the reload robot 26 moves to a fixed scanner that reads the identifying or 2D bar code of the first tube in each reload silo 100, identifying the contents. Next, the reload robot 26 moves to replenish the appropriate silos 44 in the modules 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20, via the silo robot 114 attached to the reload robot 26.
As discussed above, one reload robot 26 is assigned the Alpha modules 12, 14, 16 and 18 and the other reload robot 28 is assigned to the Bravo module 20. However, in the event of mechanical failure of a robot, the track layout 36 enables either reload robot 26 or 28 to independently replenish any silo 44 in any module 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20. The tracks 36 are modular, allowing easy dis-assembly and transport.
The central computer in the system 10 controls the database, robots, sensors and refrigerators. The computer minimizes robot travel by optimum ordering of tube retrieval and reloading. The computer also maintains information on each particular type (each silo), including number of tubes and contents in each tube to include synthesis description, date and operator.
In general, each tube 54 is maintained at a temperature of about −20° C. or lower. Room temperature where the matrix storage system 10 is positioned is maintained at an ambient temperature of 20° C.+/−10° C. Therefore, the matrix storage modules 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 are each self-cooled, as previously described, via refrigerators 46 and 48. In addition, the storage modules and robots in the matrix storage system 10 are generally portable so that they can be disassembled and rolled through standard double doors, having a height of about 16 feet.
The matrix storage system 10 is capable of loading any combination of tubes into the well plate 66 at an average rate of four (4) seconds per tube (384 seconds per well plate). This time includes time required by the service robot 30 to remove a filled well plate 66 and replace it with an empty one and any time for sensing position of the retrieval robot 22. The matrix storage system 10 is also capable of reloading any combination of storage silos 44 at an average rate of seventy-two (72) seconds per reload pipe (eighteen (18) replacement tubes×four (4) seconds). This time includes the time required to load tubes 54 from pipes into the reload robot 26, the time required for reading the bar codes of the lot identifier tubes 54, and any time for sensing position of the reload robot 26.
In general, because of the simple and straightforward design, the matrix storage system 10 may randomly retrieve 960 tubes 54 to fill 10 plates 66 from storage without mechanical jamming or retrieving the wrong tube 54. The matrix storage system 10 can also replace 1800 tubes 54 (100 pipes) without jamming or loading the wrong silo 44. The matrix storage system 10 can also provide accurate information on inventory to include timely reordering of the correct tubes 54.
The matrix storage system 10 is provided with electrical power at 110 VAC, 1 phase; and 208 VAC, 3 phase; clean, dry compressed air to drive the robots; room temperature control of about 20° C.+/−10° C., and humidity control between about 30% and 80%. The matrix storage system 10 also provides a mechanical backup. In other words, it should be practical to manually remove product from the system 10 by removing tubes 54 if the mechanical handling system fails or if an emergency, such as an earthquake requires transfer of the contents to another location. In the event that one of the robots in the system 10 breaks down, both retrieval robots 22 and 24 and both reload robots 26 and 28 and their tracks 34 and 36 are constructed to access all storage modules 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 and both service-robots 30 and 32. System 10 also has a back-up refrigeration system that takes over automatically if the primary refrigeration system fails.
The matrix storage system 10 is also built into a room that meets all applicable codes for fire, safety, electrical construction and structural integrity. Moving mechanisms in the room, such as the robots, may have guards to limit access to the matrix storage system 10 during operation. Any guards that can be removed without tools and doors may have interlock switches, effectively ceasing movement of the robots. The interlock switches may be connected to safety-rated relay devices, which will turn off the main air supply and turn off power to servomotors.
A matrix storage system 200, according to the teachings of one of the various embodiments of the present invention is shown in FIGS. 10-22. The matrix storage system 200 includes a storage unit 202 housing a plurality of storage modules 204. A retrieval robot 206 is positioned underneath the storage unit 202 and a reload robot 208 is positioned above the storage unit 202. A well plate or rack pallet stacker 210 and a tube gun 212 are located at one end of the storage unit 202.
The matrix storage system 200 stores any number of tubes (see FIGS. 2A-2B) containing frozen DNA or other substances (for example 4.5 to 7.5 million tubes) and fills well racks or plates (see FIGS. 3A-3C) with any combination of these tubes in any combination of wells. The tube inventory is divided into unique DNA assay sets (for example 150,000 to 250,000 DNA assay sets) and each DNA set will have up to thirty tubes 54. Each one of the DNA assay sets is one of 150,000 to 250,000 unique product types that the system 200 will store. The system 200 is also designed so that it can start as a smaller system and add existing storage modules 204 as the need arises. The frame 214 of the storage unit 202 and the main robot tracks 216 may be initially assembled full size with additional storage modules 204 added later or may be sized to meet the number of storage modules 204 utilized.
The matrix storage system 200 provides a mechanism to remove filled well plates, scan and check identifier codes of all tubes 54 in a full well plate, stacks up to 72 full well plates, and loads empty well plates back into the system 200. The system 200 also replaces tubes 54 at a rate comparable to the expenditure of tubes 54. Replacement tubes 54 will be delivered to the system in-well plates containing one or several lots of unique DNA sets. The lot size may be 18 to 24 tubes. The system 200 is also capable of removing and verifying the removal of all tubes 54 in a set within a short amount of time (less than five minutes). For example, this would be necessary when a DNA set becomes outdated or is found in error.
The system control software of the matrix storage system 200 receives and processes requests for order fulfillment and controls all motors, robots, and sensors to respond to those requests. An inventory database, such as an Oracle database, continuously maintains an exact number of tubes 54 per DNA assay set and also include information on the age, volume, sequence, and production lot of the DNA in those tubes 54. An inventory computer sends a reorder-message to a DNA synthesis factory when a DNA set is depleted to a minimum number, such as six or fewer tubes 54. The individual tubes 54 have identifying or 2D bar codes on the bottom. Generally, each of the assay types have a unique bar code number. The standard tubes 54 have a random ten-digit number. These numbers may also be maintained in the inventory database in order to keep track of the number of each tube 54.
The main frame or rack 214 of the storage unit 202 for holding 7.5 million tubes, (250,000 silos) is about 65 feet long, 11 feet wide, and 8 feet tall. The entire matrix storage system 200 is placed inside a cold room 218 with access around the sides that is about 74 feet long, 17 feet high, and 10 feet tall. One end of the main frame 214 can be detached and the storage modules 204 can be placed on frames 220 with casters or wheels 222 for fast removal in case of an emergency (see FIGS. 11 and 12). The storage modules 204 include four silo or passage banks 224. The silo banks 224 are held together by the welded steel frame 220. Each storage module 204 will span the width of the main frame or rack 214. Each storage module 204 is mounted on the rollers 222 so that it can be removed from the main frame 214 of the storage unit 202. The size of each storage module 204 is determined by the practical limits of the size of the silo banks 224 and the manageable size of a module 204 that can be removed from the system 200.
The interior of the silo or passage banks 224 consist almost entirely of extruded corrugated sheets 226 (see FIG. 13). The corrugated sheets 226 are interlocked together forming a honeycomb bank of silos 228 in which tubes 54 are inserted (see FIG. 14). Each silo 228 can hold thirty matrix tubes 54. Each silo bank 224 formed by the corrugated sheets 226 are stacked into a rectangular shape to create a number of silos 228. The size of a silo bank or array 224 will be determined by the practical limits of tolerance stack up, etc. Each silo 228 is one of the vertical slots that holds a particular type of product.
With reference to FIGS. 15A and 15B, flexible bar levers 230 are shown inserted into a corrugated sheet 226 at each silo position 228 to prevent tubes 54 from falling out of the silos 228 when the silo bank or array 224 is loaded into the unit framework 220. The levers 230 may be snap-fitted or pressure fitted into the array 224 or retained in any other manner. To release a tube 54 from a silo 228, the retrieval robot 206 moves a trigger device 232 underneath the correct silo 228 and activates a trigger 234 upward, pushing the silo lever 230 aside and allowing the tubes 54 to fall (see FIG. 16A). The tubes 54 gravity-fall through a funnel 236 until the first tube 54 hits a stop 238 in the trigger device 232 (see FIG. 16B). The trigger 234 is then retracted, permitting the lever 230 to spring back and hold the remaining tubes 54 in place, while the stop 238 is also retracted, dropping the first tube 54 into a rack well below (see FIG. 16C).
The retrieval robot 206 moves the trigger device 232 and well plate pallet 240 (see FIG. 20) to a particular silo 228, aligns a particular well 242 of a well plate 244 to receive a tube 54, and triggers the release of that tube 54 into the well 242, as shown in FIGS. 17 and 18. The retrieval robot 206 includes a robot head 246 and a set of linear slides 248/250 and 252/254 that move the robot head 246 in a horizontal plane underneath the matrix storage system 200, allowing it to access any silo 228 in the storage unit 202 (see FIG. 17). On the robot head 246 is the trigger device 232, the pallet 240 holding six 96 well plates 244 (see FIG. 20), and the two small slides 252 and 254 to move the pallet 240 in the horizontal plane relative to the trigger device 232. The small slides 252 and 254 can move any well 242 in the six well plates 244 underneath the trigger device 232. The four slides (two large 248 and 250, two small 252 and 254) can operate simultaneously. For example, the large slides 248 and 250 can be moving the head 246 underneath a particular silo 228, while the two small slides 252 and 254 are moving a particular empty well 242 from one of the well plates 244 underneath the trigger device 232. The robot head 246 moves back and forth from one end of the storage unit 202 to another end until all six well plates 244 are full of tubes 54.
A camera 256 on the robot head 246 calibrates alignment of the retrieval robot 206 relative to an alignment spot on the storage unit 202. The camera 256 may either reference special targets placed at the corners of the storage modules 204 or else they could perform a pattern recognition routine on a silo 228 positioned adjacent to the target silo 228.
A laser sensor 258, mounted on the trigger device 232, counts the number of tubes 54 released from a silo 228 during retrieval (see FIG. 16). If a number other than one is counted, an error message stops the robot 206 and notifies maintenance personnel. The sensor 258 may be is a laser or fiber optic device, positioned such that its beam 260 passes through the opening of the funnel 236 to illuminate a photodiode 262. When a tube 54 blocks the beam 260, the diode's electrical outputs stops, indicating the presence of a tube 54.
The rack pallet stacker 210, as shown in FIGS. 10 and 19, extracts a rack pallet 240 from the retrieval robot 206 when all six well plates 244 are full and replaces it with another rack pallet 240 holding six empty well plates or racks 244. The rack pallet stacker 210 is a device that removes and replaces the rack pallets 240 from the retrieval robot 206 and stacks the pallets 240 so that the system 200 can run unattended for several hours. An operator 260 manually places individual empty well plates 244 into and takes full well plates 244 out of the pallets 240. Subsequently, the operator 260 places the full well plates 244 one at a time over a matrix scanner that can read the identifying or 2D bar code on each of the ninety-six (96) tubes 54. The bar-code data is compared to the order database. If the bar code data does not match the expected data for any of the orders in the queue, then the operator 260 is notified that an error has occurred. If the data matches one of the orders in the queue, then a bar code is printed and attached to the well plate 244. A label print and apply device is placed next to the scanner so that this operation can occur automatically. The system prints out customer and shipping information for the well plate 244. The rack pallet stacker 210 can store up to twelve full rack pallets 240, which generally consists of an overnight run of the matrix storage system 200 (see FIG. 19). The stacked pallets 240 are accessible from outside the cold room 218 through a window 262.
Referring now to FIG. 21, the tube gun 212 extracts a tube 54 from a well plate 244, and turns the tube 54 around, and feeds it through a hose 264 to the reload robot head 266 (see FIG. 22). The well plates 244 full of replacement tubes 54 are loaded onto a conveyor belt 268 rotating into the tube gun 212. The tube gun 212 removes tubes 54 from a well plate 244 in order to add them to the inventory of the storage unit 202. When a well plate 244 is inside the gun 212, an actuator pushes and blows the tube 54 into a revolving holder 270. The revolving holder 270 turns the tube 54 around 180°, such that it can be shot (blown or sucked) into the hose 264, bar code first. The hose 264 extends over the storage unit 202 and down into the head 266 of the reload robot 208.
The racks or well plates 244 of tubes 54 are placed into the tube gun 212 by a robot that is part of a system located adjacent the matrix storage system 200. The system 200 sends a signal to this external robot that is ready to process another well plate 244. The external system that is providing the well plates 244 transfers information to the storage and retrieval system 200 about the identity of the tubes 54 and the well plate 244. A well plate 244 of tubes 54 to be added to the system 200 may have eight (8) or fewer different types of products so that tubes 54 are added at least twelve (12) at a time or any other combination to fill a 96 well plate 244. All product added to the system 200 will be frozen beforehand to prevent spillage of liquid inside the machine.
As shown in FIGS. 10, 17, and 22, the reload robot 208 add tubes 54 to the inventory by aligning the hose 264 to a silo or passage 228 and releasing up to twenty-four replacement tubes 54 into an empty silo 228. The reload robot 208 is constructed the same as the retrieval robot 206, except that it operates on top of the storage unit 202 and has a different head 266. The head 266 of the reload robot 208 has several continuously rotating belts 272 that slows down incoming tubes 54, reducing the possibility of tube 54 damage, while increasing loading accuracy (see FIG. 22). The belt mechanism 274 is contained within a sealed box 276. While vacuum or air pressure is being applied to transfer tubes 54, the box 276 is vented outside of the cold room 218 to maintain the temperature of the cold room. After several tubes 54 have been sent through the entry tube 264, the pressure is equalized by the venting and a door 278 opens to allow the belts 272 to feed the tubes 54 out of the box 276 and into the top of a silo 228. A fiber optic sensor 280, mounted on the reload head 266, counts the number of tubes 54 released into a silo 228 during reload. If a number other than expected is counted, an error message stops the robot 208 and notifies maintenance personnel.
During operation, the central storage computer orders replacement tubes 54 when the number of tubes 54 in a particular silo or passage 228 depletes below a specified number, e.g., six tubes. The replacement order initiates synthesis of the product, and ultimately the arrival of a lot of replacement tubes 54 at the matrix storage site. As explained previously, a lot of replacement tube 54 may be any number of tubes 54 that is commercially desirable. For example, the lot may be eighteen (18) tubes for the Alpha modules and twenty-four (24) tubes for the Bravo modules, the difference being the dilution or practical division of the DNA products between each lot after synthesis. The replacement lot is a batch of tubes 54 with the same product that will be entered into the storage system 200 at one time. The type of synthesis (Alpha or Bravo), is one more category of information to maintain in the inventory database.
A camera 282 mounted on the reload robot 208 will check the position of the robot 208 relative to silos 228 in the same fashion as the camera 256 on the retrieval robot 206.
In order to provide for jam recovery, in the same carriage that holds the reload robot 206, a device is provided that removes jammed or frozen tubes 54 from a silo 228. The jam recovery device includes one end of an optical sensor that works with a sensor mounted on the retrieval robot 206 to check if a silo 228 is empty. If the tube 54 fails to drop into the retrieval robot 206, the sensor will check to see if anything is in the silo 228. If the silo 228 is not empty, a flexible rod from the device is extended into the silo 228 until the tube 54 is dislodged.
The central computer of the system 200 controls the database, robots, and sensors. The computer minimizes robot travel by optimizing ordering of tube retrieval and reloading. The computer also maintains information on each product type (i.e., the contents in each silo 228), including the number of tubes 54 and contents in each tube 54 to include synthesis description, date and operator.
The average retrieval time for a tube 54
within the matrix storage system 200
is calculated at less than about two (2) seconds (see below). The strategy employed is to divide up the total area of the storage device 202
into narrow columns. The system 200
operates as if the storage array 202
has an area that is 111 meters long and 0.42 meters wide. The retrieval robot 206
will travel back and forth across the length of the system 200
several times and end up back at the same end. The width of the column is set so that the average travel between pick or delivery points will be the same in the “X” and “Y” directions. During each complete sweep of the storage system 200
tubes will be placed into a total of six well plates 244
. The system 200
will reorder the pick list so that the first tube 54
picked is the first one that occurs in the map of the storage device, rather than the first one in the destination rack or well plate.
|MOTOR TRAVEL TIME |
|Length (L) of storage unit ||18.5 ||m |
|Width (W) of storage unit ||2.5 ||m |
|Number of wells to fill per loading ||576 (6 racks with |
| ||96 wells each) |
|L sweeps made by retrieval robot during ||6 || |
|Width of L sweeps ||0.42 ||m |
|Total distance in all L sweeps (18.5*6) ||111 ||m |
|Average L travel per well filled (111/576) ||0.19 ||m |
|Average W travel per well filled (0.42/2) ||0.21 ||m |
|Max speed of motors (ball screw servo) ||1 ||m/sec |
|Time to travel 50% L distance at max ||0.1 ||sec |
|Time to accelerate to max speed ||0.25 ||sec |
|Time to decelerate to a stop ||0.25 ||sec |
|Average time to access tube (L travel as ||0.6 ||sec |
|TRIGGER TIME |
|Trigger engages lever ||0.35 ||sec |
|Tube drops into trigger device ||0.45 ||sec |
|Trigger releases lever ||0.35 ||sec |
|Average time to retrieve a tube from a ||1.15 ||sec |
|UNLOAD AND LOAD RACK PLATES |
|Full rack plate unloaded from retrieval ||30 ||sec |
|Empty rack plate loaded into retrieval ||30 ||sec |
|Average time to unload/load plates per ||0.1 ||sec |
|tube (60/576) |
|SENSING TIME |
|Position alignment compensation ||0.15 ||sec |
|TOTAL TIME TO RETRIEVE A TUBE ||2.0 ||SEC (AVG) |
Again, the matrix storage system 200 is housed at a substantially constant −20° C. temperature. The room 218 is provided with a dual refrigeration system, so that one can take over automatically if the other fails. The system 200 is also constructed so that it can be disassembled and rolled through a standard double door seven feet tall and five feet wide. Completed system 200, including the exterior freezer walls are about ten (10) feet tall. The system 200 is also capable of loading any combination of tubes 54 into a matrix rack or well plate 244 at an average rate of four seconds per tube 54 (384 seconds per rack). This time includes time required to remove filled well plates 244, add empty well plates 244, and sense position alignment. Furthermore, this system 200 is capable of replacing tubes 54 into the system 200 at a rate comparable to the dispensing rate, such that rarely is one or more DNA sets not available. Rarely is generally defined as an average of eight (8) or less hours per week for one depleted assay set, and an average of one or less hours per week for one depleted set.
The system 200 can retrieve 960 tubes from storage 202 to fill ten well plates 244 as randomly specified in software without mechanical jamming or retrieving the wrong tube 54. The system 200 can load ten (10) lots of tubes 54, twenty-four (24) tubes per lot into the system 200 as randomly specified in software without jamming or loading into the wrong location. The system 200 can also provide accurate information on inventory to include timely rendering of the correct tubes 54.
The system 200 is provided with electrical power at 110 VAC one phase; and 208 VAC, three phase; and clean, and dry compressed air for the robots and delivery tube. In case of an emergency, such as a fire, earthquake, or refrigerator break down, the system 200 is designed so that all tubes 54 can be moved out of the building in less than one hour. This is accomplished by easily detaching sections of the storage system 202 from the main frame 214 and service robots and wheel the modules away. In this regard, storage modules 204 are mounted on rollers 222. These rollers 222 move along the main frame 214 of the storage system 200. Each module 204 can be rolled to one end of the main frame 214 and then placed on the ground.
The system 200 also meets applicable codes for fire safety, electrical construction and structural integrity. The refrigerated room 218 also includes sprinklers. Moving mechanisms, such as robots, may have guards to limit access to the moving mechanisms. Any guards that can be removed without tools and doors may have interlock switches. The interlock switches will be connected through safety related relays to devices, which may turn off the main air supply and turn off the power through servomotors to cease movement of the robots.
The description of the various embodiments of the invention is merely exemplary in nature and, thus, variations that do not depart from the gist of the invention are intended to be within the scope of the invention. For example, The inventory of tubes stored by the matrix storage system is divided into the unique DNA sets with capability to store a number of tubes containing the same DNA set. For example, the matrix storage system 10 may contain 100,000 unique DNA sets with 30 tubes containing the same DNA set. The system also replaces tubes at a rate comparable to the expenditure of tubes. It should also be pointed out that the matrix storage system may also store various other size tubes containing other substances, as well as store various numbers of tubes with the above values being merely exemplary parameters. Such variations are not to be regarded as a departure from the spirit and scope of the invention.