Artel: Liquid Handling QA

Artel was founded in 1982 as an electro-optics contract manufacturer for customers with defense-standard requirements. It was only later that the company introduced its first product utilizing its signature technology, ratiometric photometry. The Pipette Calibration System employs ratiometric photometry, which is based on taking absorbance ratio readings from two standardized dyes at the same time, to verify the volume dispensed from handheld pipettes and automated pipette systems. Artel, which now identifies itself as a liquid handling quality and assurance (QA) company, provides two systems for calibration: the PCS, which starts at $10,000 for handheld pipettes, and the MVS, with a price range of $45,000–$55,000 for automated pipette systems. The company also offers customer support, such as on-site performance verification system service and certification training for the use of manual pipettes. According to Artel President Kirby Pilcher, the company’s methodology was accepted after it “made a significant effort to publish data and analysis in the scientific press. Third parties also published their results, which were favorable to our position and further helped to dispel concerns.” Artel not only used the publications to gain acceptance, but “also relied on word of mouth and strong customer service.” Artel’s main customer base is in fields where quality control is paramount, including “regulated laboratories . . . GMP quality control and contract manufacturing, and also in development, discovery, and CROs,” said Mr. Pilcher. He added that lately public health and food testing labs have opened up as fast-growing new markets due to increased concern about terrorism. Asked about the size of the liquid handling Q&A market, Mr. Pilcher stated: “Worldwide, pipettes in active use probably range from10 million to 20 million pieces. A percentage of those are serviced each year at an annual cost ranging from less than $10 in parts of the developing world, to more than $100 for pipettes that are well cared for in a pharmaceutical laboratory.” For automated liquid handlers, he estimated that “the total number of pieces is in the tens of thousands, and the percentage that are serviced and the cost-per-service event is significantly higher than for handheld devices.” Artel also offers training services for calibration. According to Mr. Pilcher, the training of technicians is even more important and cost effective for clients than calibration. It also provides a steady business for Artel due to the field’s turnover rate of 100,000 persons per year, according to Mr. Pilcher. Artel’s plan for growth is based on the addition of complementary products and services. In September, the company entered into a partnership with IonGate Biosciences GmbH, which will use Artel’s customer base and market knowledge to offer transporter and ion-channel screening. Future applications Artel plans to tackle include liquid handling Q&A at smaller volumes and enhanced real-time monitoring and reporting of liquid handling quality. At the beginning of the month, the company opened a new office in Canada, its second largest market.

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