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The 2005 IBO industrial Design Awards.

How hard is it to design an analytical instrument that is visually appealing, innovative in its industrial design and inviting to the user? To understand, just walk down the aisles of any instrument trade show or flip through the pages of an instrument publication.

The annual IBO Design Awards seeks to recognize analytical instrument companies that have succeeded in overcoming the many challenges inherent in making analytical instruments aesthetically appealing. But good design is more than a pretty box. It must also improve the instrument's functionality and the user's experience.

As the winners of this year's awards illustrate, industrial design is especially valuable for increasing an instrument's ease of use and accessibility, shrinking the footprint and making operation of the instrument more intuitive. For companies and end-users alike, performance and technical requirement come first, but enhancing the user's experience is a vital consideration and influences product perception and acceptance.

The year's winners of the twelfth annual 1130 Design Awards are notable for how they improve upon the instrument designs in their respective product segments and how they skillfully incorporate innovative design features that respond to end-user needs. Because of the wide range of analytical instruments that are available and their different design requirements, this year, IBO introduces design awards for portable instruments (see page 4) and laboratory equipment (see page 6).

IBO chooses Design Award nominees from the many new products it sees each year at trade shows, in press releases and in publications. To be eligible, a product must have begun shipping between August 2004 and July 2005. IBO Design Award nominees and winners are selected solely on visual appearance, not on technical capabilities or performance. Criteria include physical appearance, originality, user features and modern styling.

Gold Award

The recipient of IBO's 2005 Gold Award for Analytical Instrument Industrial Design is the Dionex ICS-3000 Ion Chromatography System. The ICS-3000 is a contemporary, stylish update of the standard box-based instrument design that incorporates innovative features that increase functionality as well as communicate technical sophistication. It measures 32 in. x 25 in. x 22.5 in. (without the autosampler) and weighs 177 lb. The burnished metallic finish and curved panels with embedded handles reinforce the high-end appearance of the instrument.

Working with industrial design firm Whipsaw, Dionex replaced its flagship top-of-the-line ion chromatography system, first introduced in 1991. Key to the design process was customer input, according to Mike Kinderman, IC Systems Group manager at Dionex, who along with Engineering Project Manager Gary Gleave led the project. "Dionex wanted to have a new premier platform with a fresh, new look that was futuristic yet very functional. Customer feedback helped significantly in this area, and the ICS-3000 was designed so the user feels comfortable and proud to be an operator of such a prestige instrument."

Among the most important priorities was flexibility. "[Customers] want to buy an instrument that will adapt and change through time to new applications," says Dr. Kinderman. Flexibility is inherent in the ICS-3000's modular design.

Among the many possible configurations is an upgrade to a dual system. "The instrument we replaced is roughly the same size, but it only has the ability to run one channel. What we accomplished with this instrument is it has a second completely independent channel in the same footprint, so this instrument is a dual system in the same footprint as a single system," says Dr. Kinderman.

The industrial design was fundamental in making the system more productive, yet more compact and easier to use. An important aspect to making the ICS-3000 user friendly was instrument access. "The ICS-3000 was designed to accommodate the end-user by providing easy access to all critical components. The entry into the ICS-3000 modules is unique because the doors open away from each other, not impeding accessibility, and the slide provisions throughout the modular design allow easy access to plumbing and connectors," explains Dr. Kinderman. "You can slide everything out five inches and get your hands in there, and reach in and replumb and change components easily."

In addition, changing components and maintenance is simplified through the use of snap-in devices for the detectors and color-coded channels. As Dr. Kinderman puts it, "[We designed] the provisions for the identification of the separate channels and the physical placement of components to make it very intuitive and accessible for the end-user--that was a big challenge--so that when they open [the system] up, they don't feel intimidated."

Another innovation is the ICS-3000's tablet PC. "The new tablet PC controller is especially aesthetically pleasing because of its ergonomic design to mount in various locations using an articulating arm, thus making the control options unique and flexible," says Dr. Kinderman. The tablet PC saves bench space and provides a central, flexible interface. Users can control the system with a stylus, flip the screen and access a laptop, or attach a desktop PC.

By showcasing the flexibility, ease of use and groundbreaking features of the ICS-3000, the industrial design also provides an attractive introduction to customers. For example, easy access to the interior allows the buyer to quickly get to know the instrument. Industrial design also furthers marketing through the ICS-3000's eye-catching presence. "The industrial design really played a key role in people really feeling that it invites them to come look at it," notes Dr. Kinderman.

Silver Award

Thermo Electron's EGIS Defender explosives trace detection system is the 2005 IBO Industrial Design Awards' Silver Award winner. Utilizing High-Speed Gas Chromatography and Micro Differential Ion Mobility Spectrometry, the EGIS Defender detects plastic, commercial and military explosives in the same run from any sample matrix in 10 seconds or less. Measuring 22 in. x 22 in. x 10 in. and weighing 55 lb., the EGIS is priced at $47,000. The instrument's curved edges and streamlined exterior convey a high-tech feel, which is further highlighted by its metallic finish that echoes consumer products, making the system user friendly and adaptable to the airport environment and its nonscientist users.

In updating the original EGIS product, which was released in 1999, Thermo Electron Environmental Instruments, working with Carroll Design, sought to reduce the product's size, increase its ease of use and meet the needs of two end-user groups: the system operators and airline passengers. Over a seven-month development period, designers and engineers made use of new technology as well as industrial design to reduce the product size by 70%. According to Dan Dussault, R&D and Marketing director for Explosives Detection at Thermo Electron, the EGIS Defender "probably uses about 75%-80% less components, and the ones that we do use are much smaller."

Industrial design was important to reducing not only the actual size, but the perceived size. "The whole idea is to try to reduce the visual size of this thing so it doesn't look like a huge box," says Paul Sydlowsky, Thermo Electron Environment Instruments' division manager of Industrial Design. A combination of hard and soft edges reduces the visual size and met other project priorities as well. "We were trying to get to a softer form. It's less intimidating to the end-user," says Dr. Dussault. "It has to be credible looking and has to be 'in the now' in terms of aesthetic styling ... but it's also to hide some of the volumes of the components inside," says Dr. Dussault.

Operating the EGIS Defender also had to be more intuitive. New features such as the pop-out filter and an ergonomic, flip-up computer screen are designed to make user interaction as fast and simple as possible. As Dr. Dussault notes, it was "designed so you don't have to push any buttons, unless you're going through diagnostics."

The industrial design also responded to challenges related to the instrument's operating conditions, manufacturing and servicing. "I think the time frame, the thermal heating and cooling properties, and to reduce the assembly time to make them go together quick, and if [the users] have to service them, they can pull the parts out easily and drop them in, whether they're serviced in-house or out in the field," says Dr. Dussault.

Using structural foam, as opposed to injection molding, Mr. Sydlowsky was able to the get the desired look as well as meet manufacturing goals, which were complicated by the size of the system's components and volume requirements. "Structural foam [is] much more robust; basically, it's like an injection mold process but for it's lower volume and for bigger parts and heavier wall thicknesses ... the tooling was not as expensive because you're using a softer metal rather than a hardened steel," he explains.

The silver finish was also important to the impression the EGIS Defender makes. "We wanted to get it to have a metallic look to it. From our trend research and looking at products that are in the marketplace, [we realized that] if this is going to be in the market for 5 to maybe 10 years before [customers] buy another replacement, it needs to have some aesthetic longevity," said Mr. Sydlowsky.

The dramatic difference in the system's look from previous generations of the product and from competitors has also made a difference to marketing and sales. As Dr. Dussault puts it, "[The competitors] are very safe and very uncommitted, where this thing is completely different and has a 'wow factor.'" Mr. Sydlowsky asks, "Do you want to be a me-too product? A lot of money is spent on these and there is a lot of effort and you want to show it.... Are you going to get the notice-ability you need to get people's attention?" He adds, "You have to do something different in order to say 'oh, it's still around,' and 'oh, they're really investing in new products, they're not just making small spins on things. They're actually improving along the way but also leapfrogging to get to the next generation of technology.'"

Bronze Award

Resembling the dynamic profile of a city skyline, the Applied Biosystem/MDS Sciex's 4800 MALDI TOF/TOF mass spectrometer communicates a refined yet approachable presence despite it size. Multiple curved panels, a dual color scheme and different-sized vertical segments present a progressive approach to the standard design of high-end mass spectrometers. It is also a radical departure from the instrument's previous incarnation, the horizontal box-like 4700. Measuring 90.75 in. x 42.75 in, x 33 in., the 4800 MALDI TOF/TOF conserves space and at the same time increases access and user friendliness by layering curved panels and positioning an ergonomic user interface 30 inches above the floor.

"Clearly, it was important that we had a modern design, something that was compact, modern and state-of-the-art, but was aesthetically interesting and really improved the environment in the lab space," says Dominic Gostick, PKD., director of the Proteomics TOF-MS Product Line for Applied Biosystems. The system, which took a little more than two years to design, also had to provide a significant Increase in sensitivity from its predecessor and incorporate a new laser and optics as well as microtiter-formatted sample plates and a dual-plate loading system.

Central to the design are the vertical panels. Two of the outer panels provide the framework The panels also minimize the number of assemblies involved during manufacturing, an important consideration because the production volume precluded the use of molded plastics. "I think that was the biggest challenge of all: not being able to get some of this look by doing molded plastic," says Mr. Bob McCarthy, director of MDS Sciex Framingham Instrument R&D.

Because plastic housing was not used, the design was limited to curves in one direction. "What we tried to do is combine a series of curves--since we were somewhat limited by using single-direction curves--in way [so that they] were well-proportioned with each other and so multiple sides of the device were attractive ... so the overall look from any side would be attractive," says Bryan Hotaling, president of Product Insight, the design firm that worked with Applied Biosystems on the 4800. In contrast to many other analytical instruments, the 4800 MALDI TOF/TOF was designed so it can be placed away from a wall, allowing access from all sides. Such a design makes the system more flexible to lab configurations and allows for easier access for maintenance and service.

The multiple panel design also enables service access as well as provide visual cues for the user. For example, notes Mr. Hotaling, "[The large panel on the left side] is a heavily accessed area, and so we highlight that by putting a panel there that instantly gives you access [and] at the same time blends into the architecture of the entire device."

The panels also accentuate what Mr. Hotaling calls the system's "architectural presence," comprised of its vertical lines and the flow of the panel's differing heights, which makes the 4800 appear smaller. "One way to accentuate that tallness is to break up the panels and make taller, thinner panels proportionally," said Mr. Hotaling.

The layering of different sized panels can be used in several ways. "[Due to] a combination of looking at some of the internal service-access issues and frame issues and where the ergonomic interface, we tried to break up the panels is such a way that it did become an architectural thing in that they: 1) reduce [the 4800's] overall perceived size and 2) focus your attention on the interface area." The size also allows the 4800 to fit in a standard laboratory doorway when the mirror assembly is removed. In addition, at 1200 lb., the system is a couple of hundred pounds lighter than in predecessor primarily due to the use of aluminum instead of stainless steel and distributed in a more compact space.

A more user friendly design, both externally and internally, was also important to expanding the market for the instrument. "It was dear that our customers were changing. Traditionally, we've sold to academic core labs," said Dr. Gostick. "We've now seen our customer-type actually broaden to be not just strictly academic but new clinical researchers, people working in medical hospitals and medical school labs, as well as people at pharmaceutical companies. It became more important to those types of customers that we have an instrument take up less laboratory space, was easier to use and aesthetically pleasing and interesting."

In addition, as the successor to the Applied Biosystem's first MALDI TOF/TOF, a visual statement was important. "This is a product line extension, and we needed to market it as such," said Dr. Gostick. "If we had put all of the innovative technology that we have [in the 4800] into the 4700, it would have been much more challenging from a sales and marketing perspective to launch that as a new product."
Honorable Mentions

Ambion flashPAGE Fractionator System

MISCO Abbe Max Refractometer

Teledyne Tekmar HT3 Headspace Analyzer
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
Date:Aug 15, 2005
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