METHODS AND APPARATUS FOR
HANDLING COMPOUND STORAGE
FIELD OF THE INVENTION 5
The present invention relates to methods and apparatus for handling compound storage vessels. Particularly, although not exclusively, the invention relates to methods and apparatus for handling microtubes, and especially a method of 10 removing a selected microtube from a rack and a method of sealing a selected microtubes stored in a rack.
BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION
Contemporary drug development involves the preparation and storage of a large number of compounds, and the subsequent later retrieval of selected compounds. Typically small quantities of compounds are stored in microtubes. The microtubes are stored in microtube racks which are in turn stored in 20 cold stores. Introduction of microtubes into a cold store and subsequent removal of selected microtubes is usually automated.
A variety of existing technology is available for the handling of microtubes. It is an object of the present invention to 25 provide for a new, alternative, method and apparatus for automated handling of compound storage vessels.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
According to a first aspect of the present invention there is provided a method of handling a compound storage vessel disposed in a cavity in a rack, the cavity having an upper opening and a lower opening, the method comprising the step of introducing a lifting pin into the cavity through the lower 35 opening to urge the compound storage vessel upwards within the cavity.
According to a second aspect of the present invention there is provided apparatus for handling a compound storage vessel disposed in a cavity in a rack, the cavity having an upper 40 opening and a lower opening, the apparatus comprising a lifting pin and associated actuator, the lifting pin being arranged to be inserted into the cavity through the lower opening and operable by means of the actuator to urge the compound storage vessel upwards within the cavity. 45
Using a lifting pin enables individual compound storage vessels to be selected and raised within a rack.
In one embodiment the method is for removing a selected vessel or vessels from a rack and further comprises the step of locating a lifting head defining at least one cavity over the 50 rack so that the at least one cavity is aligned with the cavity in the rack containing the selected vessel, raising the selected vessel out of its cavity in the rack by means of the lifting pin so that the vessel is introduced into the cavity in the lifting head such that the vessel becomes retained relative to the 55 lifting head.
The lifting head and rack may then be moved apart and the lifting head placed over another rack such that the cavity or cavities in the lifting head containing selected vessels are aligned with cavities in the other rack. The or each vessel 60 retained in the lifting head may then be displaced from the lifting head into the one or more cavities in the rack. The or each vessel is preferably arranged to be retained within a cavity of the receiving head by means of a friction fit. To facilitate this one or more barbs or other projections may be 65 disposed on the outside of each vessel. In another embodiment engageable formations are formed respectively on the
outside of a vessel and the inside of the or each cavity of the lifting head to facilitate releasable engagement of the or each vessel in the or each cavity.
To facilitate transfer of vessels between the lifting head and cavity the upper opening of each cavity in the rack and/or the lower opening of each cavity in the lifting head may be flared. That is to say that the opening is of a larger cross-section than the remainder of the cavity. Likewise one or both ends of each storage vessel may be tapered.
In another embodiment the method of handling is a method of sealing a vessel and the step of raising the vessel from the rack involves bringing the top of the vessel into contact with a sheet of sealing material thereby to seal the vessel.
The sealing material may be a foil and may be coated with a heat activable polymer. In the latter case the material is preferably placed under a heated plate so that when the vessel is urged against the sheet material the material becomes sandwiched between the vessel and the plate, heating the material and melting the polymer.
Prior to contacting the sealing material the vessel is preferably urged through an aperture in a die plate disposed between the rack and sheet of material. The size of the aperture in the die plate preferably closely corresponds to the size of the vessel. Subsequent to sealing of the vessel a punch may used to displace the vessel back through the die plate into its cavity in the rack thereby cutting the sealing material around the vessel. Thus both sealing and cutting is effected by a single piece of apparatus.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
In order that the invention may be more clearly understood embodiments thereof will now be described, by way of example, with reference to the accompanying drawings of which:
FIG. 1 is a plan view of a microtube rack;
FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view of the rack of FIG. 1, taken along line II-II;
FIG. 3 is a schematic view of apparatus for sealing microtubes disposed in the rack of FIGS. 1 and 2 with foil; and
FIG. 4 shows the schematic view of apparatus for removing selected microtubes from one rack and transferring them to another.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS
OF THE INVENTION
The microtube rack of FIGS. 1 and 2 comprises a substantially rectangular outer peripheral wall 1. Within the outer wall, inner walls 2 extend between the outer walls forming a grid which defines a plurality of cavities 3 each for receiving a microtube 4. Each cavity 3 is substantially square in crosssection.
The inner walls 2 of the illustrated rack define a grid of seven by thirteen cavities 3. However, any number of cavities may be defined, as desired or as appropriate. Typically, industry standard racks define 96, 384 or 1356 cavities.
Microtubes 4 are shown in three of the cavities of the illustrated rack.
As used herein the terms upper, lower, top, bottom and like terms are used in relation to the rack as illustrated, oriented as it would be in normal use.
To the top of the microtube rack each cavity 3 is open enabling microtubes to be introduced into and removed from each cavity 3 from the top of the rack. The inner walls 2 become thinner towards the top of each cavity 3 to facilitate entry of microtubes into the cavity. The opposite end of each