Revolutionising the testing of liquid analytes

Published: 29-Jan-2021

From prototype to full-scale production, technical moulder Broanmain Plastics has assisted, Specac, a global provider of spectroscopic accessories, to develop a unique puck and slide concept that prevents the cross-contamination of food and drink, microbiological, chemical and forensic liquid laboratory samples

Specac recently unveiled its revolutionary ATR (Attenuated Total Reflection) consumable puck and slide innovation.

The unique Arrow concept comprises a puck and silicon wafer ATR polypropylene slides featuring overmoulded lids, allowing lab scientists to batch test, save and cross-compare chemical changes in samples with time.

Removing the need to clean the spectrometry puck between each individual lab sample has been hailed by Specac and industry experts as a major scientific breakthrough, as it safeguards against sample cross-contamination as well as speeding up analysis.

Technical tool developer and injection moulding specialist Broanmain previously assisted Specac with its development of a new ATR accessory for the company’s high-spec offering to the spectroscopy market.

This project’s success instilled so much confidence in Specac’s team that they invited Broanmain’s tooling and production professionals — Kamil Stec and Thomas Catinat — to contribute to the full development of this completely new ATR concept.

Taking ATR in a new direction

Specac’s original concept was to create a disposable puck for high-volume hazardous applications.

Yet, through the company’s collaborations with Broanmain, the idea progressed to the development of an aluminium holding puck and disposable recyclable silicon ATR slides, which was less wasteful and used less material.

At the very first meeting, suggestions for tooling and material mouldability were made. Within a week, Broanmain had commissioned a specialist to build the prototype Arrow aluminium tooling for the slide with a built-in silicon wafer ATR crystal.

As the slide must create a liquid-tight seal between the well and ATR element, whilst also aligning the optical components accurately, design precision was critical.

The Broanmain team also pooled their expertise in overmoulding and material selection for the development of the innovative disposable Arrow slide, opting for an acid-resistant 100% recyclable polypropylene combined with elastomer.

Broanmain developed the tooling and supported Specac in trailing the concept, right through to full development and production of the Arrow ATR puck and consumable slides

Broanmain developed the tooling and supported Specac in trailing the concept, right through to full development and production of the Arrow ATR puck and consumable slides

The result was a single component, cleverly constructed to reduce both part count and manufacturing complexity.

Specac’s Strategic Buyer, Anthony Gomme, comments: “It’s always our experience that collaboration with a production partner such as Broanmain at the earliest stage results in the best product development and speeds up time-to-market.”

Eliminating contamination risks

Just like a regular Quest diamond puck, the Arrow’s ultra-thin silicon wafer ATR can be used to analyse forensic, microbiological, food and drink and paint coatings samples … yet more cost efficiently.

Rather than placing samples directly onto the puck, samples can be prepared in batches away from the spectrometry unit and analysed consecutively.

To avoid the risk of cross-contaminating samples or evaporation, a cap can be pressed down over the well. This enables scientists to archive samples or perform long running tests using different solution concentrations to observe chemical changes in the samples.

Additionally, an overmoulded seal clips down to ensure long-term storage without risk of the sample leaking past the silicon wafer.

Specac’s project leader, Michael Ramsay, explains more and why the Arrow ATR warranted a patent: “The method of overmoulding the clipping mechanism on the slide and the process of removing slides from the spectrometry unit is very novel. From a productivity perspective, labs can now batch prepare and analyse more than 25 samples in less than 10 minutes, with no cleaning of the puck between tests.”

Citing the importance of analysing the composition of food and drink commodities and ensuring samples are not cross-contaminated, Michael expands: “In the food supply chain, brand integrity, authenticity and traceability is critical."

"The correct labelling of calorific and nutritional content helps consumers to stay within recommended limits. This requires accurate quantification of the composition of food and drink to ensure full compliance with local labelling regulations. Quality control is stringent. These food analysis tests are typically performed in large batches, during which speed and accuracy are critical.”

Launched in July 2020, Broanmain has now scaled-up into full production of the Arrow puck and slides at its state-of-the-art Dorking facility.

Operations Manager Thomas Catinat comments: “It’s always exciting to be involved in such a revolutionary market development that has the potential to reshape how scientific communities will perform sample analysis in the future. As these processes become increasingly automated, innovations such as the Arrow ATR will yield more accurate and reproducible results.”

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