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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Cambridge, April 2020: Plextek Services Ltd and Design Momentum Ltd are pleased to announce they have entered into a strategic partnership to develop scientific instruments and laboratory equipment for life sciences. The partnership brings together Plextek’s expertise in electronic engineering design & development at its ISO13485-certified premises with Design Momentum’s 25 years of experience in innovative technology design in the sector.

The life science industry continues to experience change and rapid growth. It is now more than ever vital for instrumentation companies to embrace new technologies, improve efficiencies and productivity, and move to meet the ever-increasing demands of the sector. The Plextek-DM partnership brings together deep skills and experience in product ideation, industrial design, technology development and manufacture, and will allow clients to advance using the latest technologies, speeding time to market.

Current events are showing only too well the need for rapid development of critical technology to support the life science industry, and this partnership is ideally placed to help its clients through a seamless process from design to the market.

“The Plextek-DM partnership provides a unique one-stop opportunity for life science companies to access all the skills necessary for product development, from inception through to product manufacture”, said Nicholas Hill, Plextek’s CEO. “The alliance brings together a powerful combination of skills in the laboratory equipment sector and builds on the two organisations’ previous collaborations. DM’s collaborative approach is uniquely complementary to how we work within Plextek, and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership”.

“Partnering with Plextek to design and deliver instrumentation for our clients will allow us to provide the very best design and engineering services,” said Professor Phil Gray, DM’s Managing Director. “Together, working as one team, we will unlock the full potential of our organisations and place our clients on the best path for success in a rapidly changing market.”

Our joint approach to scientific instrumentation development will grant life science clients access to a unique combination of long-term engineering know-how and best-in-class product design capability which will enable next-generation devices to be produced more efficiently, bringing products to a market quickly.

About Plextek Services Ltd
Plextek is an innovative electronic engineering consultancy with huge expertise in advanced sensing, data collection and communications technology. The company has extensive experience of developing highly complex and innovative products for a range of sectors, including medical & healthcare. In a world of rapid change, the company prides itself on its ability to solve the hardest engineering problems to deliver effective solutions to meet our clients’ needs.

About Design Momentum
DM is a user-focused industrial design and product development consultancy helping clients innovate and develop the next generation of products, systems and services. The company brings together a highly-experienced team with a unique blend of creativity, innovation and development skills all with a sharp business focus. DM has combined 72 years of experience in life sciences, automation and scientific instrument design & development.

Please contact Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare at Plextek for more information.

3rd April 2020: Dr Nigel Whittle, Head of Healthcare & Medical at technology consultancy Plextek features in The Engineer news article on how advances in health sensing and monitoring tech could help with remote care for those in self isolation or vulnerable situations.

Coronavirus has taken us all by surprise, with many parts of the world in or heading into virtual lockdown. Can developments in tech and healthcare devices now come into their own and help us fight back against the current crisis?

We are only too aware that early detection is absolutely key to monitoring the spread of disease and ultimately improving survival rates, so how can these developments in devices come into play, now so desperately needed?

To read the full article Click Here.

Coronavirus, people wearing masks, treatment and prevention

The Coronavirus Epidemic – How Worried Should We Be?

By: Dr Nigel Whittle
Head of Medical & Healthcare

31st January 2020

4 minute read

Home » Healthcare

The current epidemic results from infection by a coronavirus, one of a family of viruses that infect the nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Infection causes illnesses that range from the common cold to pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The virus is named after its characteristic shape, which under an electron microscope looks like a royal crown with bulbous protrusions around it.1

Most such viruses are not dangerous. However, in early January 2020 the WHO identified a previously unknown type: 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a new strain not previously seen in humans. The first human cases had in fact been identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, before the cause was known. Initial symptoms of the viral infection included a fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, but in more severe cases the infection led to pneumonia, kidney failure and death.

By mid-January there were over 300 confirmed cases in China and a death count that was in the single digits but rising steadily. Many of those initially infected either worked or shopped in a large market in central Wuhan, which also sold live and newly slaughtered animals, leading to the assumption that the virus had jumped species, a not uncommon phenomenon. Interestingly, a genetically similar viral strain had been identified in a local breed of bats a few years’ previously, suggesting that the virus has jumped at least two species.

Spread of the virus

It is now clear that the virus is capable of person-to-person spreading. Scientists at Imperial College recently estimated that about 100,000 people around the world may already be infected with the new coronavirus and that each infected patient can infect on average 2.6 others – about the same rate as in annual influenza outbreaks. Worryingly there is concern that the coronavirus can be passed on during the disease’s incubation period, which means that someone who is ill but not yet displaying any symptoms could transmit the infection. A current count of more than 100 deaths out of 6,000 reported cases implies a 1.7% mortality rate, compared with seasonal influenza (which causes about 400,000 deaths each year globally) with a mortality rate well below 1%.

First lines of defence

One of the first lines of defence is monitoring airline passengers flying in from areas where the virus is active, often using thermal imaging cameras to detect fever, in an attempt to identify people who have symptoms. The problem is that only those who are already ill will be picked up, although it is thought that the incubation period (how long it takes for symptoms to appear after catching the infection) is days, rather than weeks. More draconian measures such as those instigated by China to effectively quarantine 10’s of millions of people may help to slow the progress of the disease but may not be enough to stop the virus spreading.

Surgical masks to slow the spread?

One of the defining images of large respiratory disease outbreaks is people wearing surgical masks in the street, and this one is no different, most notably in China where they are also worn to protect against pollution. Many other cities in Asia are already reporting masks flying from the shelves, leading to shortages in the shops. But do these masks offer any protection for the wearer? The coronavirus is spread by droplets in the air produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, but it is also spread by touching a contaminated surface and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. This means that it is more likely for a person to become infected if they in close continuous contact with someone who is infected rather than a casual interaction on the street. In reality, the thin material in masks does little to stop respiratory viruses spreading, and masks have to be worn correctly, changed frequently and disposed of safely in order to work properly. There is however some limited evidence that suggests masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions.

Treatment and prevention

As this is a viral disease, antibiotics are not an effective treatment, and standard anti-viral drugs used against influenza will not work. So far, recovery has been very dependent on the strength of patients’ immune systems, and many of those who died are known to have suffered from poor health. Unlike influenza, there is no currently available vaccine, which means it is more difficult to protect vulnerable members of the population. How long will it take to develop an effective vaccine? The US NIH has suggested that a vaccine might be available for testing in humans in about 3 months, which represents an unprecedented speed of development. This has been enabled by technology for rapid genetic analysis of the virus, and prompt action by governments to begin a vaccine development programme.

So what can we do to avoid infection?

To minimize the effects of any respiratory illness, from the common cold to 2019-nCoV, doctors recommend the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home when you are sick.

Much like SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012, the current coronavirus outbreak has caught local and global health systems by surprise, but it remains to be seen what the final impact of the epidemic will be on the world’s population.

1 For those interested, coronaviruses are enveloped viruses with a single-stranded positive-sense RNA genome, ranging in size from approximately 26 to 32 kilobases, tiny for a living cell but the largest for an RNA virus. The appearance results from the presence of viral spikes which are proteins that determine the virus hoist specificity, and are potentially good targets for vaccine.

The current epidemic results from infection by a coronavirus, one of a family of viruses that infect the nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Infection causes illnesses that range from the common cold to pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The virus is named after its characteristic shape, which under an electron microscope looks like a royal crown with bulbous protrusions around it.1

Most such viruses are not dangerous. However, in early January 2020 the WHO identified a previously unknown type: 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a new strain not previously seen in humans. The first human cases had in fact been identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, before the cause was known. Initial symptoms of the viral infection included a fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, but in more severe cases the infection led to pneumonia, kidney failure and death.

By mid-January there were over 300 confirmed cases in China and a death count that was in the single digits but rising steadily. Many of those initially infected either worked or shopped in a large market in central Wuhan, which also sold live and newly slaughtered animals, leading to the assumption that the virus had jumped species, a not uncommon phenomenon. Interestingly, a genetically similar viral strain had been identified in a local breed of bats a few years’ previously, suggesting that the virus has jumped at least two species.

Spread of the virus

It is now clear that the virus is capable of person-to-person spreading. Scientists at Imperial College recently estimated that about 100,000 people around the world may already be infected with the new coronavirus and that each infected patient can infect on average 2.6 others – about the same rate as in annual influenza outbreaks. Worryingly there is concern that the coronavirus can be passed on during the disease’s incubation period, which means that someone who is ill but not yet displaying any symptoms could transmit the infection. A current count of more than 100 deaths out of 6,000 reported cases implies a 1.7% mortality rate, compared with seasonal influenza (which causes about 400,000 deaths each year globally) with a mortality rate well below 1%.

First lines of defence

One of the first lines of defence is monitoring airline passengers flying in from areas where the virus is active, often using thermal imaging cameras to detect fever, in an attempt to identify people who have symptoms. The problem is that only those who are already ill will be picked up, although it is thought that the incubation period (how long it takes for symptoms to appear after catching the infection) is days, rather than weeks. More draconian measures such as those instigated by China to effectively quarantine 10’s of millions of people may help to slow the progress of the disease but may not be enough to stop the virus spreading.

Surgical masks to slow the spread?

One of the defining images of large respiratory disease outbreaks is people wearing surgical masks in the street, and this one is no different, most notably in China where they are also worn to protect against pollution. Many other cities in Asia are already reporting masks flying from the shelves, leading to shortages in the shops. But do these masks offer any protection for the wearer? The coronavirus is spread by droplets in the air produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, but it is also spread by touching a contaminated surface and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. This means that it is more likely for a person to become infected if they in close continuous contact with someone who is infected rather than a casual interaction on the street. In reality, the thin material in masks does little to stop respiratory viruses spreading, and masks have to be worn correctly, changed frequently and disposed of safely in order to work properly. There is however some limited evidence that suggests masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions.

Treatment and prevention

As this is a viral disease, antibiotics are not an effective treatment, and standard anti-viral drugs used against influenza will not work. So far, recovery has been very dependent on the strength of patients’ immune systems, and many of those who died are known to have suffered from poor health. Unlike influenza, there is no currently available vaccine, which means it is more difficult to protect vulnerable members of the population. How long will it take to develop an effective vaccine? The US NIH has suggested that a vaccine might be available for testing in humans in about 3 months, which represents an unprecedented speed of development. This has been enabled by technology for rapid genetic analysis of the virus, and prompt action by governments to begin a vaccine development programme.

So what can we do to avoid infection?

To minimize the effects of any respiratory illness, from the common cold to 2019-nCoV, doctors recommend the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home when you are sick.

Much like SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012, the current coronavirus outbreak has caught local and global health systems by surprise, but it remains to be seen what the final impact of the epidemic will be on the world’s population.

1 For those interested, coronaviruses are enveloped viruses with a single-stranded positive-sense RNA genome, ranging in size from approximately 26 to 32 kilobases, tiny for a living cell but the largest for an RNA virus. The appearance results from the presence of viral spikes which are proteins that determine the virus hoist specificity, and are potentially good targets for vaccine.