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The scale of operation of freely suspended animal cell culture has been increasing and in order to meet the demand for recombinant therapeutic products, this increase is likely to continue. The most common reactor types used are stirred tanks. Air lift fermenters are also used, albeit less commonly. No specific guidelines have been published for large scale (≥10 000 L) animal cell culture and reactor designs are often based on those used for microbial systems. However, due to the large difference in energy inputs used for microbial and animal cell systems such designs may be far from optimal. In this review the importance of achieving a balance between mixing, mass transfer and shear effects is emphasised. The implications that meeting this balance has on design of vessels and operation, particularly in terms of strategies to ensure adequate mixing to achieve homogeneity in pH and dissolved gas concentrations are discussed.