Capit-All Desktop Instrumentation

The Challenge

To prevent cross-threading or over-tightening of caps, as well as the cross-contamination of samples during entry and removal. Also, to remove the need for disassembly for cleaning and maintenance and enable personnel at any level to operate instruments without the need for very high standards of training.

The Approach

Working as part of The Automation Partnership (TAP) team, the team made sure that the instrument’s robust design would deliver reliable, high throughput access and storage of samples. This was one of several projects completed over a period of more than 20 years.

The Outcome

This was one of the first desktop instruments developed by TAP. The design team needed to translate the look and feel created in much larger instruments into this smaller product and maintain high-quality usability and brand recognition.

The instrument enables increased laboratory throughput and improved ergonomics by capping or de-capping up to 96 tubes at once – approximately 10 seconds per rack. With the addition of spacers, it also enables its use with 500µl or 1.0ml tube racks on the same instrument and maintains seal integrity with pre-determined torque control. Safety features ensure that racks are loaded in the correct orientation.

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LEADseeker Multimodality Imaging System

The Challenge

Amersham Biosciences had a pressing need to convert a laboratory proof-of-principle prototype into a commercial imaging instrument, capable of fulfilling a number of functional roles. Their primary requirement was to increase the flexibility of the instrument to perform a wider range of modalities without compromising its performance. But equally important was a need to bring it to the market as rapidly as possible in order to meet many of the existing imaging challenges faced by the company.

Working in a multi-disciplinary team the key objective was to increase the flexibility of the instrument to perform a wider range of modalities without compromising performance. In addition, time to market was an important factor.

The Approach

The imager can function in three modes: as a manual system for assay development, in semi-automatic mode with a stacker workstation where microplates are delivered from a carousel to the imager, or as a fully automated system integrated with major robotics platforms for High-Throughput Screening (HTS) environments.

The team included microbiologists, physicists, software, mechanical and electronic engineers and a small product ion group that built and tested systems including three prototypes.

Early in the process a number of labs were visited, mainly in the USA, to gain an appreciation of what we call ‘care-abouts’ to understand the real needs of users. This bought a different perspective to the design team and enabled us to focus on creating real benefits which translated into much quicker setup times, greater efficiencies and thus improved overall performance.

The Outcome

The first multi-modality instrument on the market capable of imaging plates in seconds with automation allowing the processing of several hundred plates, or approximately 500 000 tests per day, using miniaturised screening formats. In addition, the build philosophy and construction had a significant influence on inventory, cash flow and QA as a result of innovative design thinking.

The role of industrial design played a significant role in working across the siloes of expertise by being the glue to bond these function together and to be the champion the user, laboratory technicians.

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Telehealth Innovation – Connecting Patients to their Carers

“Poor health may be inevitable at some stage, but managing this period through early intervention leading to rapid diagnosis and treatment can minimise the severity of the condition, making hospital stays less likely and shorter”.
- Julian Holmes, CEO, Sanandco

The Challenge

Changing demographics and an ageing population is putting an increasing burden on the NHS, risking its ability to provide care free at the point of access.

Does technology have a solution to this problem? Can management of health be transformed by widespread deployment of low cost integrated medical devices capable of collecting basic patient physiological data and transferring it to cloud-based centres for analysis?

MonitorMe was conceived as a novel vital-signs monitoring telephone, simple to use but capable of providing rich information to healthcare providers and carers.

The Approach

The telephone handset is equipped with sensors to capture vital physiological signs and send them via telephone lines to a digital patient record, which could be analysed by a medical professional if significant changes were identified.

Plextek scientists thoroughly investigated the system requirements and created a whole-system simulation to understand the limitations of the system and test our intended solution.

We worked closely with the company throughout the development process, integrating four vital-signs sensors into a robust telehealth device capable of providing accurate information to a back-end patient database.

The Outcome

The delivered MonitorMe phone fully supported full-duplex DTMF signalling to a local telehealth server emulator. In order to interface with the public network the existing DTMF tones were matched to the connected network characteristics to protect the phone and user.

The Plextek team developed and delivered a solution that utilised appropriate design principles to allow eventual CE certification of the final product.

Completion of the development programme for this advanced prototype enabled our client to begin usability trials with hospitals in Leeds and Newcastle in order to acquire a CE mark and bring the product to market.

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Cost-effective Technology Development

"Plextek’s electronics design expertise has enabled us to provide a reliable and robust solution for temperature control at a cost acceptable to an over-the-counter, disposable device”.
- Paul Bateman, CEO Genosis

The Challenge

Our client, Genosis, had developed an OTC male fertility test which mimics nature by separating the motile (active) sperm from the non-motile (inactive) sperm and then measures them using a chemical test strip.

The sperm travel through a column of fluid which must be maintained accurately at normal body temperature, the best conditions for the motile sperm.

It is imperative that the temperature is precisely controlled for accurate read-out of motile sperm numbers, but any temperature regulator must be compatible with a disposable testing device.

The Approach

Plextek initially undertook a design study for Genosis which examined the potential options available for the fluid heating system: whether to use a simple discrete controller or a more flexible microprocessor based solution.

After reviewing the options, the Plextek electronics team developed an ultra-low cost but highly precise microcontroller that accurately regulates the temperature of the fluid column.

The basic functions were easily augmented so that temperature limit checking and module health functions were incorporated at no additional material cost.

The Outcome

The hardware & software design and manufacturing engineering was always undertaken in a way to minimise the factory gate cost, ensuring that the final product would be both reliable and affordable.

After thorough laboratory testing and extensive clinical trials, the product was successfully launched as an OTC product containing both male and female fertility tests and marketed through Boots.

The availability of an accurate, simple to use OTC screening test for male fertility affords couples earlier diagnosis which translates into a greater number of couples successfully conceiving and having healthy babies.

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Immersive Technology for Complex Systems Training

"Virtual Reality offers the potential for an extremely engaging and immersive experience that can present highly effective opportunities for learning and development”.
- Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare

The Challenge

Effective training requires immersion in a realistic environment where appropriate skills can be developed. However, it can be hard to replicate some situations for training purposes, for example, hazardous or complex environments.

It is vital to measure the effectiveness of training procedures in order to define the overall value in the training programme. Often companies employ ‘train-the-trainer’ structures to cascade knowledge & skills, and it is imperative that the quality and reach of training is measured.

Our client required a cost-effective training system to ensure specialist procedures were followed, which operated in a complex environment and produced a measurable outcome.

The Approach

Complex systems require complex training procedures, and immersive systems are a powerful means of generating realistic training environments that can be accurately configured to meet the client’s needs.

Through close observation of our client’s training methods, we captured their domain insight and evidence-based content. We then applied our software and imaging capabilities to develop an immersive virtual training environment using Oculus Rift.

Our ‘interactive training world’ uses a dynamic structure to measure effectiveness through the trainee’s choices and decisions, which can then be used to tweak the system to improve its effectiveness.

The Outcome

Our modular VR training approach provided the client with a flexible, validated training solution that was straightforward to use, and can be deployed at scale.

A direct training approach has also enabled the client to improve their training content based on end-user feedback, providing invaluable insight into the key requirements for specific training scenarios.

We demonstrated the value of conducting training in realistic VR environments, especially those that were complex or hazardous, and how those systems could be set up to provide useful feedback.

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