The 2007 IBO Design Awards

Each year, the IBO Design Awards honors the best in industrial design of analytical instruments and laboratory equipment. This year’s winners encompass a diversity of approaches to the challenge of designing a product whose visual appearance complements and distinguishes the product’s technical abilities.

IBO again this year recognizes industrial design in three product categories: analytical instruments, portable analytical instruments (page 4) and lab equipment (page 7). For analytical instrument designers, the product is required to set new performance levels, appeal to a variety of end-users, and improve ease of use and flexibility. Portable instrument design must stand up to the rigors of a natural or factory environment, meet stringent ergonomic requirements and be easy to operate. The industrial design of lab equipment must contribute robustness, reliability and operability.

Candidates for the Design Awards are selected from products that began shipping between August 2006 and July 2007. The Awards are based on the product’s appearance and features: how they improve and facilitate the product’s performance and the end-user’s experience. Criteria include aesthetic appeal, functionality and distinctiveness. Technical abilities are considered only in terms of the design challenges they presented.

Gold Award

The 2007 IBO Gold Award for industrial design for analytical instrumentation goes to Bruker BioSciences’ Bruker Optics business for the ALPHA FT-IR spectrometer. As with last year’s winner (see IBO 8/15/06), the ALPHA embodies a common theme for the industrial design of analytical instruments: improved performance with a substantially reduced footprint. However, the ALPHA is more than just a smaller-sized version of an FT-IR. The raised blue panel, the slight curvature of the top and the indentation in the front separates the ALPHA from the static, boxy shape of other spectrometers, creating a unique identity in a crowded market.

The ALPHA is designed for entry-level applications, such as teaching and quality control, and is priced starting at $15,000. It features a spectral range of 375–7500 cm and a permanently aligned interferometer. Bruker Optics’ R&D group in Ettlingen, Germany designed the electronic and optical layout of the ALPHA, and Yellow Design Group was responsible for the industrial design. The product took three years to develop.

Weighing only 5.9 kg (13 lb.) and measuring 20.3 x 27.9 x 15.2 cm (8 x 11 x 6 in.), the ALPHA’s size conserves bench space—it is even small enough to fit in a drawer to free up space. “Our customers demanded a small, compact FT-IR for routine, quality control use,” said Haydar Kustu, marketing manager for Bruker Optics. “They wanted something easy to use, worry free, taking a small amount of benchtop space,” he noted. The ALPHA’s light weight makes it easy to move and facilitates usage in a fumehood or glovebox, increasing its applications. As Mr. Kustu told IBO, there are “many new customers who are buying the ALPHA to be placed inside a glovebox; this was impossible with other conventional entry-level FT-IR systems.” In addition to its practicality, the size of the ALPHA is eye catching. It looks like nothing else on the market, combining a compact size with sophisticated styling. The size and shape also create a sense of familiarity—the ALPHA is the same length and width as a piece of paper. The design also communicates solid craftsmanship and technical ability through its sturdy casing and multilevel surface. “ALPHA’s size and performance was our first priority. However, we also had accessory flexibility, ruggedness and worry-free maintenance in mind when we were designing the new ALPHA,” explained Mr. Kustu.

The ALPHA’s design highlights its flexibility and ease of use. The rectangular button on top of the ALPHA is an intuitive interface that enables the user to slide the front compartment off and snap one of four sample modules into place. As Mr. Kustu told IBO, “ALPHA does not require any purging and unlike many other competitors, the only consumable is the long lifetime diode laser, which can easily be replaced by the user.”

Silver Award

The winner of the 2007 Silver IBO Design Award for analytical instruments is Spectro Analytical/AMETEK‘s ARCOS inductively coupled plasma spectrometer-optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES). Weighing approximately 250 kg (551 lb.), the ARCOS measures 1366 x 696 mm (53.8 x 27.4 in.). The ARCOS’s distinct appearance is due to its optical system. ARCOS stands for Advanced Rowland Circle Optical System. The Paschen-Runge mount ORCA (Optimized Rowland Circle Alignment) features 32 linear CCD detectors and a focal length of 750 mm in a circular arrangement. The system can record a wavelength range of 130–770 nm and provides 8.5 pm resolution in the 130–340 nm range, according to Spectro. Applications include ultra-trace analysis of environmental samples and the analysis of organic materials in petrochemistry applications.

The ARCOS is one of the few Rowland Circle ICP systems on the market. The vertical placement of the Rowland circle configuration allows for benchtop placement. Spectro declined an interview about the ARCOS, citing confidentiality. However, as ARCOS’s marketing materials state, “Its appearance alone sends out a definite signal: The SPECTRO ARCOS is different from conventional ICP spectrometers.” The appearance certainly draws attention, highlighting the instrument’s unique attributes and its premium performance. The two-color configuration provides a symmetrical appearance and creates a streamlined look, which is complemented by the slightly curved blue door. What could have been a clunky and unwieldy product is instead refined and approachable due to the industrial design.

Several features of the ARCOS also increase usability. The ARCOS’s SPECTRO-UV-PLUS system requires little maintenance, according to marketing materials. Argon gas is circulated using a membrane pump, eliminating the need for purge gas or a vacuum pump. As a result, the only maintenance required is the replacement of the cleaning cartridge every 12–15 months. In addition, all of the ARCOS’s components and connections are accessible from the front and sides, enabling maintenance without moving the instrument.

Bronze Award

The winner of the Bronze award for the 2007 IBO Design Awards is Applied Biosystems’ StepOne real-time PCR system. Designed for smaller labs, the three-color, 48-well StepOne thermal cycler, priced at $22,900, can be upgraded to the four-color, 96-well StepOne Plus. Applications include gene expression, viral load testing and genotyping. Applied Biosystems worked with Lunar Design on the product, which took two years to develop.

The StepOne’s compact footprint and sleek design communicates the instrument’s ease of use, robustness and its ability to fit into a lab of any size. According to Product Manager Rosy Lee, “This product may be a customer’s first introduction into real-time PCR; we wanted to make the technology as accessible and approachable as possible.” The touch-screen interface, blue frame and rounded edges echo consumer product design, creating a sense of familiarity for users and a friendly appearance.

The StepOne system measure 42.7 x 24.6 x 51.2 cm (16.81 x 9.7 x 20.16 in.) and weigh 23.6 kg (52 lb.). The instrument’s configuration incorporates the software, making it the first real-time thermal cycler that can be operated without a PC. Customer focus groups contributed to the design, according to Ms. Lee. “One of the things that came through was that customers wanted the top surface of their systems to be flat so that they can lay things on it—it’s almost as if they were saying that we needed to ‘give back’ the bench space we were taking away with the instrument. Therefore, we created a flat surface, and in fact, there is a recessed area with contrasting texture to actually invite customers to lay down their notebook or tube racks while they load the instrument.”

Other design features to increase usability include the sample drawer. “The drawer handle has visual and tactical indicators of how to hold the drawer,” explained Ms. Lee. “When the instrument is running, the drawer moves up, thus decreasing the height of the band to about an eighth of an inch. So if you’re on the other side of the lab, you can look over your shoulder to see the instrument and whether or not it is in use.” In designing the vents, said Ms. Lee, “we wanted to stay away from grillwork which can appear dated,” so they are arranged “to minimize the appearance while providing all of the ventilation required.”

Ms. Lee also noted how the system fits in with other Applied Biosystems products “It was important to us that the design be an evolution, not a revolution. We wanted to ensure we had a link to our history with our existing products . . . The key tie back to our existing products is the blue band that goes across the instrument.”

Honorable Mentions

Finnzymes Piko Thermal Cycler


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