Dialogue – Minitube Quattro Operation Video 2
(Production Preparation, Straw Leak Test, Operation, & Cleaning)
Operational use of the Minitube Quattro straw filler-sealer is being presented in two videos. In the first video, we explained parts, safety, and settings adjustments for the Quattro. In this second operational use video, we give an overview of: process preparation; straw leak testing per batch; production process per batch; and cleaning between batches.
The equipment, tools, and supplies required for this video include:
A working Quattro machine with a straw hopper that has been qualified for production. This means that the entire machine was cooled at five degrees Celsius for at least twenty-four hours and that the compact sealing unit was cooled at five degrees Celsius for at least two hours. In addition, a qualifying filler-sealer test should have been performed as required and the machine should have been cleaned according to instructions. If unsure the Quattro has been tested and cleaned, perform these procedures before using the machine.
You also will need point two five milliliters or point five milliliters vacuum and filling needle assemblies, depending on the size of straws to be filled. Needle assemblies should be cooled at five degrees Celsius for at least thirty minutes prior to use.
In addition to the needles, the straws that will be filled and sealed are required. They should be cooled at five degrees Celsius for at least thirty minutes prior to use, as well. Straws per batch should be labeled using a straw printer and verified by two employees for legible, accurate information.
Next, we need a freeze tube holder. Types may vary.
Filling and sealing production, or testing, record forms may be needed, as applicable. Please make sure you understand from laboratory management how these forms are to be utilized.
The next requirements are freezing racks and a straw distribution block. They must be dry and cooled at five degrees Celsius for thirty. The racks must be in good condition; meaning no screws, legs, or handles are missing, and they are not bent or twisted. These items are for organizing and counting too, so even if you are not freezing a batch produced, they should be used.
For straw leak tests per batch and any other seal testing during operation, a Minitube straw seal tester is required.
The last items needed are used for cleaning and drying the machine between batches. You should have available; paper towels, isopropyl alcohol, and canned air for the cleaning required.
Now that we have covered all equipment, tools, and supplies required, we will move on to preparation prior to beginning operational procedures. Remember; parts, safety, and settings, are covered in a previous video that should also be referred to when necessary during operation.
In this video, we address moving a batch of extended semen from a freeze tube into properly filled and sealed production straws. Each batch has unique information that must be included in some form of labeling on each freeze tube and the straws for the batch.
Earlier in the process, straw print verification should have been performed. Two employees review the printed straws and record appropriate information for each batch. Semen filled into straws with illegible or incorrect print cannot be sold.
After the print was verified, the straws should have been cooled at five degrees Celsius for at least thirty minutes. Straws not acclimated to this temperature often result in problematic operation and bad seals.
The first step of the production filling and sealing procedures is to verify the straw type, including; manufacturer, size, color, and lot number. Different straw types might require different filler-sealer settings and operation, so always make sure to verify.
Based on the straw type, the settings for straw size, sealing intensity, and filling volume should be verified, or adjusted as needed. The filler-sealer should be adjusted to pre-determined settings that were verified as optimal during previous testing. If these settings do not produce the desired outcome when extended semen is running, then operation should be stopped until the problem is determined and resolved with laboratory management consulted.
Freezing racks should be cooled for at least thirty minutes at five degrees Celsius, free of moisture, and in good condition. Enough racks should be cooled to fill the freezer as directed, even if not all of them will contain straws.
Distribution blocks vary in size, and therefore, in the number of straws they hold. Based on the type of freezing racks used, verify the type of block needed and know its maximum capacity. It is recommended that lines, or marks, are placed on the block to indicate increments of five or ten. This makes counting easier, since accurate straw counts are important. Discrepancies with incorrect counts may cause confusion and frustration later on for other departments and customers.
Both vacuum and filling needle assemblies of the size needed should be cooled at five degrees Celsius for at least thirty minutes prior to use. The needles themselves should be sterile and dry. The assembly consumables, tubing and gaskets, should be in place already, or if not, cooled and available for use to assemble needles immediately before needle placement.
Finally, before proceeding, establish that the batch has been fully processed, completely extended, and cooled for the appropriate amount of time.
These steps for preparation may seem tedious, but the more verified prior to filling and sealing, the easier it will be to successfully produce quality straws once production operation begins. Now that we have thoroughly covered preparation, we will move on to machine setup procedures.
First, make sure the safety door on the Quattro is closed.
Then, mount the straw hopper on the machine. Once the hopper is in the correct position, it is held in place on the machine magnetically.
Remember to only handle the straw hopper by the acrylic portions.
While holding the hopper, line it up behind the placement area on the top of the machine.
Set the hopper down approximately two centimeters behind the straw volume selection sheets.
Slightly tilt the hopper forward, then slide the hopper into place using the guide grooves until you feel it lock in place.
When it is locked in place and seated correctly, there will be no gap between the bottom of the hopper and the machine. They will be perfectly parallel to each other where the metal of the hopper and machine meet.
Once the hopper is properly in place, work on the vacuum setup.
Inspect the vacuum needle assembly already in place under the touch screen or get a new assembly. The vacuum needle size must match the straws and filling needle size.
Verify that the vacuum bottle, metal tubes, tubing, and needles are clean, clear, dry, and ready to use.
Vacuum tubing should have been removed from the clamps while the machine was idle, as pinching for long periods may deform the tubing causing vacuum and filling inconsistencies.
Verify that the needle gaskets and tubing connections are properly positioned on the needle. The gaskets should be flat against the needles, be flat on the side that will contact the straw and be of the same standard length. Each tubing should be attached approximately two thirds of the way up the needle barb.
The assembly should be mounted in place so the metal pins on the machine are through the bore holes. Remember needle bevels should always be pointing up.
Make sure the free end of each tubing is attached properly to a metal vacuum tube. The order the tubing is attached to the metal tubes does not matter.
If the vacuum needle assembly, metal vacuum tubes, or vacuum bottle are not ready for use, then clean and dry, or replace components as required. After the vacuum needle assembly is ready, proceed as follows.
Power on the machine using the ON-OFF button. On the white start screen, touch in the middle of the circle to move on to the next screen.
The next screen is orange and will read “install suction head”. At the same time, the vacuum clamps will physically open. This screen will time out and return to the start screen if the next steps are not completed and confirmed in eighty seconds or less.
Each vacuum tubing must be placed securely in a clamp, and the order here does matter. Place the tubing in the clamp that is directly in line to the left of each needle, working from the one closest to the machine to the one closest to you.
Grab the tubing closest to the machine between your thumb and forefinger of both hands, at approximately ten centimeters from the back of the needle closest to the machine. Then, pull the tubing portion between the two places you are holding it into the vacuum clamp.
Make sure that the portion of tubing between the back of each needle and the clamp is long enough, so that it will not be pulled tight when the needle assembly moves forward, but at the same time not so long it will get caught on something or bend over itself in a kink.
Minitube recommends placing the tubing behind the clamp so that this portion between the valve and the needle is shaped like a letter “C”. It is also suggested to roll the tubing between your fingers, then insert it twisted and pre-stretched into the clamp, which helps prevent the tubing from kinking.
Repeat these steps with each tubing piece until they are all properly secured in their respective clamp. Then you press ‘ok’ on the screen to confirm. The vacuum clamps will close over the tubing, and the grey screen reading “vacuum is generated” will be shown.
The numbers on the vacuum display will change from red to green once the vacuum has generated enough suction; and the touch screen will proceed automatically to displaying the main screen.
A straw leak test should always be performed immediately prior to filling and sealing each production batch. No testing is necessary after the last consecutive batch at the end of a shift, processing slot, or production day. However, the initial testing should then be performed immediately before the first batch in the next series produced.
A new filling needle assembly will be used for testing before the first batch in a series. Additional, consecutive batch tests may be conducted using the same needle assembly from the previous batch. It should then be replaced with a new, clean filling needle assembly before processing the next production batch.
Use a Minitube straw seal tester to perform the straw leak test. Other alternatives may exist and should be employed as instructed by management.
For straw leak tests, you must use blank straws that are of the exact manufacturer, size, color, and lot number as those for the production batch are required. This means that straws of all types used on a routine basis should be kept in the cold room, so they are already cooled to five degrees Celsius and ready for testing whenever needed.
When ready to perform the straw leak test, load the blank straws into the hopper with the cotton plug end pointing towards the touch screen. It is also critical that all straws are manipulated in the hopper so that they lay perfectly flat, organized, and parallel to each other.
A container with plain extender, for example, ULTRA F+, should be labeled as ‘test extender’ and set aside. This container may be used repeatedly for all batches in a twenty-four hour period but should then be replaced. Always remember to homogenize the extender before each test.
Set the testing media container in the holder as close as possible to the filling needle side and open the lid.
Retrieve a filling needle assembly and inspect to ensure all needles are straight, and that gaskets and tubing have been properly assembled. The filling needle size must match the vacuum needle and straw size. Then place the free tubing ends into the test extender.
Now, place the filling needle assembly itself onto the machine using the bore holes in the needle casing to seat the assembly. As always, needle bevels should be pointing up.
After the needle assembly and tubing ends are setup in the test extender, press the ‘filling clamps’ button on the screen.
The filling clamps will open, and the orange screen will read ‘exchange filling head’. This is another function that will time out if not completed and confirmed in eighty seconds or less.
Just as with the vacuum tubing, each filling tubing must be placed securely in a clamp, and the order here matters as well. Place the tubing in the clamp that is directly in line to the right of each needle, working from the one closest to the machine to the one closest to you.
Grab the tubing closest to the machine between your thumb and forefinger of both hands, at about ten centimeters from the back of the needle closest to the machine. Then pull the tubing portion between the two places you are holding it into the vacuum clamp. As with vacuum tubing, make sure that the portion of tubing between the back of each needle and the clamp is long enough, so that it will not be pulled tight when the needle assembly moves forward, but at the same time not so long it will get caught on something or bend over itself in a kink.
Repeat these steps with each tubing piece until they are all properly secured in their respective clamp, then press ‘ok’ on the screen to confirm.
The filling clamps will close around the tubing and the main screen will be displayed again. You are now ready to produce the straw leak test straws.
To begin, touch ‘start’ on the screen. You will notice the first straws stay in the filling position longer than any others. This is to compensate for the time it takes to also fill the needle tubing for the initial set.
If you need to stop operation, open the sliding door or press ‘stop’ on the touch screen. You may need to stop operation to make adjustments or if issues occur, and after the required number of test straws are filled and sealed.
Monitor every straw that is being filled and sealed. Adjustments to filling time might have to be made at this point. If so, refer to the Quattro operation video one.
Once a batch of test straws is ready for evaluation, grab a set of ten by the sealed end and give them one quick, gentle shake by flicking your wrist. This should move all the semen towards the cotton plug and consolidate air bubbles towards the sealed end of the straw.
Straws that are filled correctly should consistently have extender going into them up to a place that is one fourth to one third of the way into the second cotton plug piece, as seen in this animation.
The extender should fill each straw so that the air gap between the extender and sealed end is approximately five millimeters.
In addition, check that the air gap is consistent among all straws and that no needles are performing differently than the others.
If straws are filled correctly, then continue on to checking seals. If not, then you must begin troubleshooting.
For good seals, look for the following qualifications:
The seal length should be approximately two millimeters.
A T-shape should be seen within the center of the main portion of the welded seal.
The welded walls of the seal should be symmetrical.
The side that was contacted by the anvil is relatively flat and smooth. The side that was contacted by the sonotrode usually shows just a very slight indentation within the two thin plastic ears of the seal that face that direction.
Look at twenty straws and visually verify everything as just described. If the qualifications are not met, then adjust settings or components until you can produce twenty qualifying straws consecutively. Once you have these twenty qualified straws, proceed to testing their seals.
To use the Minitube straw seal tester, first, make sure to secure it to the countertop.
Then, open the tester door and place ten test straws in the device. Place one straw per groove with the cotton plugs pointing towards the metal plungers.
If the grooves are not the correct size, then the plate will need flipped over. This is done by simply lifting the plate away from the magnetic surface and flipping it over. Some units may not be magnetized and so two set screws must be removed, the plate turned over, and then the set screws replaced. Once the straw grooves facing up are of the correct size, place ten test straws in the device; one straw per groove and with the cotton plugs pointing towards the metal plungers.
Close the tester door, hook the latch, and then use the lever to push the plungers into the straws.
If the straws leak when pressure is put on the seals, then sealing issues are occurring and must be addressed before proceeding.
Types of bad seals and other information regarding sealing parameters are described in the Quattro operation video one.
If predetermined sealing parameters are correct and issues are still occurring, discuss with management.
If the seals hold with no leaking and the cotton plugs moves back towards the original position after the handle is released to take off the pressure, then proceed to the next group of ten straws to be tested.
Once twenty straws have been evaluated and approved, the machine is ready for use with the production batch once the filling needle assembly is changed.
Press ‘filling clamps’ on the main screen of the touch screen and the clamps will open.
Remove all tubing from the clamps then lift the needle assembly off the mount pins and the free ends of the tubing out of the ‘test media’.
Remove and discard all needle gaskets and tubing.
The dirty needles should be placed on a fixing unit in a soapy water container, as described in the needle cleaning and assembly video.
Close the lid of the ‘test media’ container and set it to the side if it will be used again or discard it if not.
Lastly, remove all blank straws from the hopper, transport star, and collection tray.
Now with batch testing completed, you are ready to move on to filling and sealing production straws.
First, verify and record batch information. Standardized forms are used for comparison of information from the freeze tube and print on straws, while also confirming information about the filler-sealer unit. The goal is to ensure the correct semen is going into correctly labeled straws by comparing the bull code, bull name, collection code or date, and any other required batch information. Additional instructions on how to complete record forms is available in a separate video.
If any information on the freeze tube and straws does not match exactly or is questionable in any way, consult with management before proceeding.
Remember, it is critical to avoiding bacterial contamination whenever handling semen and anything that comes in contact with it. Therefore, always use disposable lab gloves when ready to start filling and sealing a new batch. If other types of gloves are used for warmth, then the lab gloves should go over them.
With all information confirmed and clean lab gloves on, you are ready to place the printed straws in the empty hopper. Place them the same way described earlier with the test straws; ensuring that they lay perfectly flat, organized, and parallel to each other.
Gently swirl the freeze tube to homogenize the batch and place the container in the holder as close as possible to the filling side of the Quattro. Then, carefully open the lid of the freeze tube.
A new filling needle assembly should be used now. As required every time a new assembly is used, inspect it to ensure the needles are straight and that the gaskets and tubing have been properly positioned.
Place the free ends of the filling needle assembly tubing in the freeze tube, taking care not to contaminate the tubing or the semen.
Then, mount the needles onto the machine using the bore holes in the needle casing and with the bevels pointing up as previously shown.
After the needle assembly and tubing ends in the freeze tube are setup, press the ‘filling clamps’ button on the screen and clamp the tubing as previously shown.
One last time before starting the machine, make sure to gently homogenize the semen by swirling. This may also be done at any time during the filling and sealing operation if the batch is large and will take a while to complete. Use extreme care when swirling the freeze tube at this point on because the lid is open, and spills can happen more easily.
When ready to begin, press ‘start’ on the touch screen. Monitor every straw to ensure that they are properly filled and sealed.
Remember, correctly filled straws should consistently have semen going into them up to a place that is one fourth to one third of the way into the second cotton plug piece.
Next, verify that the air gap at the sealed end is approximately five millimeters and is consistent among straws.
Inspect the seal length to ensure it is approximately two millimeters and that the welded walls are symmetrical.
If an issue is identified with any of these qualifiers, stop operation and troubleshoot. Relevant troubleshooting information is included in the Quattro operation video one.
Considering that the machine has been qualified during the straw leak test, the first point to check if an issue occurs is the filling needle assembly, since that is the only thing changed after the test.
Regardless of the issue identified, do not proceed if you cannot correct it yourself. Seek assistance from laboratory management or other experienced staff.
Physically defective straws represent a significant cause of quality discards. Most of these can be avoided by carefully monitoring straws throughout the entire run to ensure straws are properly filling and sealing.
The Quattro’s default operation is to fill and seal four straws at once. It should be noted that you may switch the operation to fill and seal just one straw at a time if that is appropriate or required.
This is usually helpful towards the end of a fill when the batch volume is getting low. It is easier to control just one tubing end staying immersed in semen instead of all four ends.
Touch ‘one by cycle’ on the blue operation screen and it will change to a yellow screen titled ‘one by cycle’.
Three vacuum valves will close and the semen in the tubing attached to those valves will run back into the freeze tube to be utilized.
For both ‘four by’ and ‘one by’ cycles, the tubing ends in use must remain under the semen in the container at all times. If the tubing ends come out of the semen, excessive amounts of air bubbles start to enter the straws, leading to fill volume issues.
Using care, the tubing may be manipulated as needed by a clean, gloved hand to keep the ends submerged. Many facilities also have container holders that are angled to help with where the tubing ends naturally lie in the semen.
Once all semen has been suctioned from the freeze tube, press the ‘empty’ button on the screen. The screen will change to a yellow screen titled ‘empty’. Sixteen more straws will be filled into the transport star from the hopper and then the Quattro operation automatically stops, and the touch screen returns to the main screen.
Using the ‘empty’ function eliminates straws being left in the transport star when production is finished. It also stops an excessive amount of empty straws from being mixed in with the production straws in the collection tray.
Once all semen has been used and machine operation stops, remove and verify the straws produced.
When removing straws from the collection tray, hold them by the sealed end. It is important to never touch and warm up the portions of the straws with semen, as temperature changes negatively affect product quality. Straws should be handled as minimally as possible.
Gently give one shake to a group of straws held at the sealed end by quickly flicking your wrist.
These straws can then be laid out on a freezing rack over the distribution block. When rolling the straws to lay them out with one per groove, try to move them by touching only towards the ends and doing so quickly.
The freezing racks are directionally-related to which hand you will use the freezing scoop in later when removing straws from the freezer. Make sure that the rack is placed accordingly over the distribution block.
The individual straw teeth should point left, and the rack alignment hook is on your right, when you are preparing for right-handed scooping later. The racks are placed over the block the opposite way if you will scoop them left-handed instead.
When a rack is full, lift it straight up using the two handles. Once safely above the block, slightly tilt the rack back towards you to line the straws up evenly.
Verify each straw for proper filling and sealing, as described earlier. Any straws that do not meet all standards should be removed and set aside until all unacceptable straws are collected.
Depending on the issue with the straws and the quantity of them that are defective, a process called ‘cutting and plunging’ may be required to recover semen instead of discarding it. This process will be explained in a different video. Consult management if you believe this may be necessary.
Repeat each step for racking and verifying straws until they have all been removed from the collection tray. Each rack, except the last one, should be full to maximum capacity.
To obtain the final straw count to be recorded, first multiply the number of full racks by the maximum capacity of each rack, then add the number of straws on the partially-filled rack.
Remember, an accurate count is critical for many reasons between now and final inventory. Once the final straw count has been determined, enter this total into the production database and any standard record forms, as applicable.
Due to the importance of an accurate count, the total number on the touch screen of the Quattro should never be used.
Straw quality and count verifications from another employee must also be performed. The other employee must take each rack of straws produced and set it back on top of the distribution block.
For each rack, the second employee should look at fill volume and seal quality, then verify the rack is full. If necessary, remove defective or questionable straws; and move straws around to make sure all racks, except the last one, are full. Only proceed once both employees are in agreement of the total count.
Do not forget to change the straw total in the database or record forms, if any adjustments are made.
If the straws are to be kept unfrozen for fresh insemination or any other reason, then consult management regarding how to proceed. For a batch ready for freezing, make sure stacked racks with straws are set safely to the side and proceed with the straw leak test for the next batch.
If not filling another batch right away, skip ahead to steps described later that explain cleaning between batches and after the last batch in a series.
If another batch will be filled and sealed now, the filling needle assembly that was just used may be used again for the straw leak test. The exception being if the straw size will change, and therefore, the current needle assemblies will not work for the next batch.
Whether using a new filling assembly or the one already mounted, remove the free ends of the filling tubing from the freeze tube. Transfer the free ends to the ‘test media’ container.
Close the lid of the freeze tube just used and set it aside. A semen quality check will be done later, as described in a different video.
Make sure to remove printed straws for the previous batch from all areas of the Quattro. Using printed straws for testing is not recommended, even if the next batch will be filled into the same straw type. Use blank straws of the straw type to be used next by loading them into the hopper now.
Run a straw leak test exactly as described earlier in the video. Once twenty consecutive straws pass the test and the machine is qualified to run the next batch, proceed to cleaning the machine.
Cleaning between batches is critical for two main reasons. First, it helps reduce or eliminate bacterial contamination. Second, it ensures removal of liquid, plastic, or other debris that build up during operation and may negatively affect sealing.
First, remove the filling needle assembly that was just used for the straw leak test, or the last production run if there are no more batches to run at this time. Then, slide the safety door open and remove the metal plate with the Minitube logo.
Remember that Clorox wipes and other harsh chemicals should never be used for cleaning the Quattro. Use only isopropyl alcohol, as directed, for cleaning between batches.
First, clean the anvil and sonotrode area of the compact sealing unit, or CSU. Fold a dry paper towel and lay it under the sealing area.
Then, using a toothbrush wetted with isopropyl alcohol, scrub the anvil and sonotrode using side-to-side strokes. Next, dry the sealing area with canned air and remove the folded paper towel that was placed underneath.
Finish cleaning the machine by wiping the filling needle assembly area, straw collection tray and metal logo plate with a paper towel wetted with isopropyl alcohol. Verify one last time that no empty straws remain in the machine.
Replace the metal logo plate and close the safety door. The machine is ready for operation again to produce the next batch of straws.
If another batch is not going to be processed immediately, press the ‘install suction head’ button to open the vacuum clamps and disengage tubing. Then power off the machine using the ON-OFF button, so it may remain idle until the next series of batches will be produced.
Always verify all settings are correct between each operation performed and to monitor the filling and sealing of each and every production straw. If any filling and sealing issues occur during operation, and are you are not able to troubleshoot yourself, immediately stop operation and notify lab management.