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The Biggest Reason Forensics Labs Should Automate Tube Labeling

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Preserving biological evidence is one of the most important priorities for a forensic scientist. However most labs have not added technology to automate tube labeling.

Why is automated tube labeling so critical?

As the National Institute of Standard and Technology put it in its superb “The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook: Best Practices for Evidence Handlers”:

Across the nation, headlines tell the story of evidence that has been mishandled, misplaced, lost, or destroyed. Often the blame for these mishaps is directed toward property and evidence custodians housed in law enforcement agencies nationwide. Many law enforcement agencies do not properly address, recognize, or support the efforts of their property rooms. Although these agencies bear ultimate responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the evidence, the real problem lies with a systemic failure to properly account for evidence from collection through final disposition.

Read the entire article here –

One of the biggest systemic failures is the lack of identification on vials, either in-process or in storage.  Handlers can hardly be blamed as the workhorse of a forensic lab is the difficult-to-handle (or hand label) 0.2mL PCR tube.

PCR tube in hand

In the past it sufficed to store a set of samples in tubes with the general case file.  Unidentified, but related to the file.  But with the proliferation of various biological data in the field, individual identification is not only preferred, but in some cases required.  As the NIST handbook states:

Each item of evidence must have a unique identifier, which can take a variety of forms: numeric, alphabetical, a combination of both numbers and letters, or a barcode. Just as with the tracking system, the identification system can be simple or intricate. The key to any such system is that an identifier can never be duplicated and that the item of evidence can be correctly associated with a specific case.

Further NIST uses the example of three items from a case file:

Case Number – Item Number Description
2012-12345 – 1 One brown men’s shirt
2012-12345 – 2 One pair of men’s jeans
2012-12345 – 3 Blood sample from Jane Doe


Try fitting “2012-12345 – 3” on a standard 5mL 12x75mm blood tube with a marker.

Better yet, try the same thing with a 0.2mL or 1.5mL sample of that blood.

NIST suggests that any label on evidence also include:

  • The case identifier
  • item identifier
  • type of crime
  • date/time that the item was collected
  • where the item was collected
  • the name or initials of the person who collected the item.
  • biohazard labels, as appropriate

Fortunately, instruments now are on the market that can automate tube labeling from 0.2mL PCR’s to 50mL conical tubes with 2D barcodes and multiple lines of human readable text.

These systems can print multiple tubes at a time and work with Microsoft Excel for data entry.

As you can see on this 0.2 ml PCR Tube, machine labeled tubes prevent human handwriting error and can easily “print” all the required identifiers.

MicroID_PCR_200ul 2D



TubeWriter 360 and TubeWriter MicroID are high-speed printing systems for labware that dramatically reduces labeling time and can help you automate tubelabeling.  You can learn more about TubeWriter 360 and MicroID here or contact us to speak about your application.

Best Practices for purchasing lab automation equipment? A step by step guide.

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purchasing lab automation equipment guide for slas“Good, cheap and fast.  Pick two.
– Manufacturing idiom.

The above quote is included to remind us all that there are no perfect solutions and in purchasing lab automation equipment we are balancing price, throughput, flexibility, scalability, durability, and a host of other factors. That being said here are some simple steps we recommend you go through to get started down the right path to purchasing lab automation equipment in a new lab or replacing automation in your existing processes.

Step 1.  Make a flow chart of your current lab operation and/or automation.

This might feel like overkill and a good vendor may put this together for you, but breaking out Visio or PowerPoint to make a flow chart is time well spent and will make the rest of the lab automation selection process much less painful.  Putting pen to paper and creating  a flow chart will ensure all steps to process a sample are accounted for and allow/force vendors to present solutions that eliminate and / or automate specific steps. Read More

Linear (1D) vs. 2D Barcodes for Laboratory Sample Identification

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The vast majority of modern barcodes fall into 2 basic categories – linear (1D) and 2-dimensional (2D).  Some people mistakenly refer to 2D barcodes as 3D barcodes and while 3D barcodes do exist, they are generally never seen and used in life sciences.

Linear (also known as 1D or 1-dimensional) barcodes encode data using vertical bars and spaces.  The most common format in life science and clinical laboratories is Code 128 since this standard can encode all 128 ASCII characters and requires the smallest amount of space compared to other linear barcode standards. Read More