Centrifuges are designed to spin and separate liquid and solid components at high speeds. Practically everyone in the lab uses these indispensable tools, so researchers look for models that are safe for multiple users and reliable 24/7. Additionally, laboratories want features that are easy-to-use for complex centrifuge applications. Modern research labs are busy facilities with many users sharing centrifuges, as they do most capital equipment. This environment creates safety issues for lab personnel and can be a source of mishaps and lost samples, if used improperly. Unfortunately, many lab staff are forced to work with antiquated equipment that can potentially lead to accidents and research delays. With new, more reliable technologies, there is no reason to tolerate such devices any longer. Technology innovations designed for user safety and simplicity can make centrifuges trouble-free for research success.

Recent material technology advances in centrifuge rotor design, rotor exchange technology and rotor identification are now available to simplify centrifuge operation and safety. It is important to understand these new technologies for the safety and research success of the end user.

The basic centrifuge instrument has evolved into a very high level of sophistication due to the increased physical forces on the rotor system and need for interchangeable rotors for application flexibility. Manufacturers make a variety of rotors for a diverse range of tubes and sample containers. Additionally, they make special purpose rotors for a wide array of high throughput sample processing applications including microplates and rotors specifically designed with liners for the blood banking industry.

To enhance the performance and safety of the centrifuge, some manufacturers are moving away from constructing rotors from metal alloys. Traditional rotors are made out of metal, a dense and heavy material that can potentially cause injury to laboratory staff during installation or removal from the centrifuge. Metal rotors, mostly used in ultracentrifuge and benchtop models, are not corrosion-resistant and are susceptible to structural changes generated by centrifugal force stresses. Engineers have made significant advances in material technologies for centrifuge rotors, and many developments have been made using carbon fibre composite materials.

The benefits of carbon fibre rotors bring together the combined properties of lightweight, durability and corrosion resistance that are prized by many industries, such as the automotive and aerospace industries. First, carbon fibre rotors are lightweight, and have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than most metals. This improved ergonomic feature makes installation and removal easier, reducing the chances of lower back injury and contributing to a safer work environment. Another limitation of using heavier rotors is the inconvenience of needing the assistance of another person to remove the rotor from the centrifuge as well as requiring the use of a cart for transport.

Secondly, carbon fibre rotors are corrosion-resistant and as a result, have an increased life span. Exposure to moisture, chemicals or most organic solutions such as alkaline solutions and salts occurs regularly in laboratory environments. Carbon fibre rotors are more resistant to this type of exposure and are safe for use with most laboratory detergents and commercially available solutions for radioactive decontamination.

Finally, carbon fibre rotors are more durable to ultra-high gravitational centrifuge stresses than alloy metal rotors. These metal rotors are more vulnerable to the tremendous forces and repeated cycles that cause structural damage to the rotor. Advance composite carbon materials are much more resistant to this type of fatigue, and enable a longer lifespan. Also, carbon fibre rotors can accelerate and decelerate faster in the centrifuge, which shortens the run time. This reduces stress on the centrifuge through decreased wear on the drive components, making a carbon fibre centrifuge investment longer lasting and more appealing to laboratory budgets.

The issue of proper installation is a process that traditionally requires considerable hand strength and technique, compounded by heavier alloy metal rotors. This process often involves a special tool to ensure that the rotors are safely secured in the centrifuge chamber. Loss of sample or, in the worst case, loss of the rotor is rare. However infrequent, rotor system failure from improper installation could damage the centrifuge and injure personnel in the immediate vicinity. Manufacturers have made innovative advances to improve rotor placement, providing user confidence that the rotor is safely and securely locked in the centrifuge.

Unlike the traditional rotor tie-down systems, secure rotor exchange technology enables users to install or remove rotors in seconds. These trouble-free rotor exchange systems allow easy access and cleaning convenience and the flexibility to switch rotors, accommodating many different types of tubes and volumes all within the same centrifuge. This is a safe and simple-to-operate system which automatically locks the rotor into the centrifuge prior to the run and only requires a single push of a button to release and remove the rotor when the run is complete.

In a typical lab, there are multiple users for most lab centrifuges. Modern centrifuges have many built-in features for rotor management that allow end users to monitor usage by rotor name, total number of hours used, or total number of cycles. State-of-the-art technologies include; interactive touch screen features with interface for quick-start manuals, operator and run reporting to assist with GMP/GLP compliance, and multilingual instructions for run conditions, alert messages and password protection.

New innovations in instant rotor identification prevent the user from programming wrong rotor speeds and codes. These advances ensure that the selected rotor is the correct choice for the application and the centrifuge is programmed with the correct application parameters. A new feature, instant rotor identification, immediately identifies the rotor when secured in the centrifuge chamber with rotor specifications automatically loaded into the parameters of the instrument. This feature also eliminates over-speed risk. The process of centrifuge rotor over-speeding can occur if the wrong rotor codes and speeds are accidently entered in the user interface. This user error can prematurely stop a centrifuge run and result in incomplete separation, affecting valuable samples, loss of run time and possible damage to the centrifuge.

Automatic rotor identification technology works by detecting the rotor’s unique magnetic pattern as soon as it is secured into the centrifuge and then automatically loads rotor name and specifications into centrifuge parameters. Immediate identification of a rotor by the programmed centrifuge also reduces the run time set-up and eliminates the need to find and set rotor codes. This feature streamlines the research process and reduces the potential for user error messages by simplifying rotor transfer and protocols.

To achieve high performance and lab safety when operating a centrifuge, it is also important to establish internal lab policies to avoid damage and costly repair of the centrifuge. The first step is to ensure that lab employees are using established manufacturer procedures for centrifuge safety. Manufacturers provide user manuals and training on the proper use of the instrument; including software instructions for run logging, data management, on-board tutorial videos and access to codes for multi-users and rotor ID. Centrifuge maintenance requires daily procedures such as a visual check for rotor damage and a regular schedule to clean rotors. These procedures also include specific instructions for decontamination and to minimise aerosol exposure for each model. Almost all centrifuge manufacturers recommend an annual calibration on the instrument.

A properly functioning centrifuge will provide researchers with consistent and reliable performance while minimising the probability of an accident. There are many beneficial features to consider for rotor management such as automated systems that instantly detect and regulate parameters based on the rotor installed. Also, with a range of research requirements and high staff turnover, a centrifuge that is easy-to-use and accommodates multiple users with different experience levels will consistently improve lab performance. Recent advances in carbon fibre rotors, rotor exchange technology and rotor identification have helped to extend the life of your centrifuge and also safely improve lab performance.