Re-Engineering a Medical Sample Collector for More Effective Testing
The customer is an independent testing laboratory that conducts quality control for pharmaceutical companies. After the chemical ingredients for over-the-counter and prescription drugs are manufactured, each substance requires individual testing for quality and safety.
In order to test the samples, chemists in the lab introduce the chemicals to a petri dish containing a known bacteria, then allow the bacteria to grow. The resulting substance is a gelatinous material, and the chemists then collect several samples of it from the dish in order to run their tests. Each petri dish required six samples of exact amounts to be collected, and performing the extraction by hand made it difficult to collect an accurately-sized sample.
Years prior to coming to Wilson, the customer had been introduced to a prominent researcher from a leading university who had developed a prototype of a mechanical sample collector. This device was mounted on a piece of plywood and utilized a lever that operated a rudimentary press comprised of six cutting heads.
But the prototype devices were beginning to wear out. The cutting heads were no longer able to extract precise sample sizes. With no alternative on the market to continue sample collection, the company needed to find a manufacturer who could fabricate them from scratch. Enter Wilson Manufacturing.
The customer demonstrated the functionality of their original devices, explaining that they needed us to replicate the design. Our team started asking more questions about the process of working with the devices, and we uncovered a few challenges with the prototype that were preventing the lab from operating at peak efficiency and safety.
First, the housing of the original device was made from plywood, which is difficult to clean and sanitize—a big problem in a pharmaceutical laboratory environment. Second, the samples of material would often get stuck inside the cutting heads instead of remaining in the petri dish, which required the tester to stop and extract the material from the cutting head, which was not easy to do manually without damaging the sample. Finally, the original device was difficult to disassemble, which made proper cleaning an even bigger challenge.
Our production and engineering teams came together to begin redesigning the device to improve upon the original model and address the customer’s concerns. Instead of a wooden housing, they created a housing out of anodized aluminum, which offers superior durability and corrosion resistance in addition to its ability to be easily cleaned and sanitized.
To prevent the cutting head from pulling up the sample, we tweaked the geometry and also added a through hole on the top plate. Now, if a sample did get stuck inside the cutting head, it could easily be poked out. We later refined the design to include low air pressure that ejected the sample from the cutting head, further preventing it getting stuck inside of it.
Finally, we modified the assembly to make the device easier to dismantle and sanitize. By creating a collar piece around the cutting head, the user could easily grasp the four components and take them apart quickly without risking damage to the parts.
The initial customer was eventually acquired by another company and word began to spread about our devices. We began producing more of them to meet the new demand.
As our version of the device became more widely used, we discovered that the original wooden prototype required parts to be replaced every year. Our durable housing and high-quality stainless steel cutting heads meant that our devices were able to operate for six or more years without requiring replacement parts.
At Wilson, we believe in questioning the way things have always been done because there is usually a better way to make a product work. When we ask the right questions and delve into the effectiveness of a tool, we are able to make adjustments that help our customers gain efficiency by making their jobs easier. If there are challenges or frustrations in your cutting operation that you’ve accepted as simply part of doing business, we can help you imagine new solutions that can help take you to the next level.
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