Biomedical Walk-in Freezer to House Robots

May 9 2018

HighRes Biosolutions Robotics Lab


Designing and manufacturing walk-in freezers to house robots turns normal work processes at Imperial Brown’s West Coast facility on its head, so to speak, and highlights the customization work for which the company is known.


On a recent order from HighRes Biosolutions in Woburn, MA, Imperial Brown designed and built two long, narrow biomedical walk-in freezers for Univerzita Palackeho v Olomouci, the second oldest university in the Czech Republic, established 1533.


The freezers house robotic stations designed by HighRes Biosolutions. They are fitted between ultra-low-temperature freezers that store genetic materials for university research at -70C (-94F) degrees, according to John Sandall, Scientific Applications Manager at Imperial Brown.


The Imperial Brown freezers operate at -20C (-4F) degrees. Both are 4’ wide. One is 18½’ long and houses 5 robotic stations; the other is almost 30’ long and houses 9 robotic stations.


“Everything about this is completely different from how we normally build a walk-in freezer,” says Sandall. “Because we specialize in high-density urethane edge (HDU) construction, we can turn those rails any direction and build what the customer wants.”


Imperial Brown includes the robotic stations among its many customized units, and they are located in research labs used by pharmaceutical and biotech companies and academic research laboratories throughout the world.


In normal construction, the Imperial Brown team begins with the floor, then the walls, and finally, the ceiling. With this application, the customer needs free access to the robotic stations in case of robot malfunction, without taking the entire freezer apart, says Sandall.


With the Imperial Brown product, the customer only removes the wall in front of the problem robot. “They can unlock that wall section and move it out of the way to make repairs,” says Sandall. In this construction, the ceiling and floor sit inside the walls, which are actually multiple openings.


The robots are necessary because the labs can’t risk contamination of biological specimens by allowing scientists to handle them, and because humans can’t operate in the ultra-low temperatures involved. The specimens are in long-term storage until needed in areas such as drug discovery, high-throughput genotyping, siRNA screening, next-generation sequencing sample prep, biorepository science, molecular diagnostics, and more.


“The robots inside our walk-in freezers take the samples and file them away for long-term storage and retrieve them when needed, using the automated doors,” says Sandall.


The Imperial Brown walk-in freezers feature zero percent humidity to prevent the robots from rusting. The walk-in freezers are built with very tight tolerances and perfect sealing. A heated rubber mating surface is provided for the ultra-low-temp freezers to seal against the walk-in coolers and to prevent any moisture from getting inside. The openings for the automated doors contain steel tapping plates and foaming for the door installation at the jobsite.


The Imperial Brown customer, HighRes Biosolutions, located just outside of Boston, designs and builds innovative robotic systems and laboratory devices used by pharmaceutical and biotech companies and academic research laboratories.


Univerzita Palackeho v Olomouci, lists science, research, and their support and development as among its priorities as a research university. The departments and their teams have top-level technology, including three research centers—Biomedicine for Regional Development and Human Resources, the Centre of the Hana Region for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research, and the Regional Centre for Advanced Technology and Materials.