By Claudi Bui

Getting to market quickly is essential when introducing new instrumentation into a fast-paced industry sector like genomics. When the pressure is on, rapid prototyping can be the key to quickly and efficiently building a reliable product that fulfills all the needs of your customer. In this article, we take a closer look at what prototyping involves and how you can accelerate the process to get your instrument to market faster than your competitors.

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Disposable tips are essential components when reducing contamination in genomic instruments and should be included in prototypes at an early stage.

Why is prototyping necessary?

Prototyping is an essential part of developing any product. Producing a working model prior to release affords you the opportunity to evaluate feasibility, test critical or new functionality, and experience the workflow of your instrument. Having a working prototype allows you to discover any potential gaps and opportunities to improve and optimize the next design/iteration. However, that is not the only purpose of prototyping. By assembling a fully working model, you will gain important insights on how the application works in an automated environment and will save valuable time down the road.

Working with an OEM provider that has a broad portfolio of tested and proven components will save time during the prototype process. Because verification and validation for these parts has already been performed, test time is reduced and fewer resources are required, thus reducing risk early on in the project. This also reduces development cost and speeds up your time to market.

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Prototypes are often developed at the start of a project when teams are least experienced and unexpected problems are more likely to arise. This is normal, and you could argue that the entire purpose of building prototypes early on is to give teams experience and expose problems in a controlled environment. While this is certainly true, prototyping problems can lead to delays at the very start of the project, which can have significant residual effects. If it is possible, there is a huge benefit to applying the same Agile principles to hardware development as you would for software. This means being able to adopt a “fail early” approach that relies on fast and efficient prototyping strategies.

Fast prototyping allows you to evolve the development of your instrument at an accelerated rate. Using rapid prototyping, it is possible to produce many iterations of your instrument and make them incrementally better in a very short period of time. Crucially, this is also done before the product is launched meaning that your instrument not only gets to market more quickly but is also significantly better and more thoroughly tested.

In addition to hardware, software is an under-utilized tool as part of the prototyping process. A robust software development kit (DK) includes easy to use time saving tools. For example, Tecan's MAPlinx DK offers a 3D simulator, which enables digitalization of your application environment within a virtual setting, allowing you to start developing software and design hardware before the first hardware components are available. The worktable editor speeds up and facilitate the set-up and design of the workdeck layout for your automated liquid handling instrument. MAPlinx relieves developers of the time and effort it takes to develop and test those components themselves, as it provides the feature to be able to work virtually.

This rapid evolution of your product not only means that development goes faster, but also that you can have more confidence in your final product when it goes to market. You will have the assurance that prototypes have been through several cycles of building, testing and improvement to guarantee that your automated liquid handling instrument is of the highest quality.

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One of the secrets of rapid prototyping is to source pre-developed components where possible, rather than reinventing the wheel by developing every aspect of your automated equipment from scratch. Fast prototyping means that no time is wasted doing work that has already been done. For that, it is essential that your team has experience, or that you find an OEM partner with a proven track record in your industry. A good partner will have already developed many of the off-the-shelf components that you need for your instrument. This means that no time has to be spent developing and testing components that have already been designed, produced and validated by experts. Instead, you can spend your time optimizing the application for the automated workflow and working on other more novel aspects of your product that are going to make it unique and perfectly tailored to the needs of your target market.

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A good example of ready to use components is the Tecan Cavro® Magni Flex development platform. This is a flexible liquid handling technology robot that has been specially designed to be used in OEM applications. As liquid handling is such a critical component of genomic instruments, having such a flexible base with tried and tested components is an extremely efficient way to rapidly develop laboratory ready solution.

A recent addition to the Cavro Magni Flex platform is the Air Restriction Pipettor (ARP) technology this is a welcome feature for genomics equipment manufacturers. The ARP technology not only allows accurate control of small volumes of liquid but it also integrates the use of disposable tips which are important for reducing the risk of cross-contamination of genomic samples.

Working with an OEM partner can be your competitive advantage when it comes to rapid prototyping and getting to market quickly. If you would like to learn about how Tecan’s off-the-shelf components can speed up your prototyping, get in touch with one of our experts.

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Read more: 10 causes of delay when rolling out laboratory instruments in genomics

About the author

Claudio Bui

Claudio Bui

Claudio Bui is the Head of Product Concepts for the Partnering Business in the Components Marketing Team. The primary function of his team is to work closely with customers to develop new concepts and proposals based on a thorough analysis of their specific requirements. Claudio started at Tecan in 1990 in R&D developing Components and has been involved in the development of a number of small laboratory instruments. In 2005, he joined the Marketing team.