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Accelerating Cancer Diagnosis with Customized Motion Control

Thu, 01/05/2012 - 9:58am
Scott Frederick

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The Challenge: A large OEM needed a consistent motion controller for a 84-slide capacity IHC benchtop autostain machine.

The Solution: A customized, four-axis 1/2-stack motion controller was selected that ran inside the OEM customer’s existing PC, reducing cost for the manufacturer and increasing lab space for the end-user.

As cancer continues to be a serious public health issue in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, more people are being biopsied and tested to determine diagnosis and treatment options. If a diagnostics laboratory immunohistochemistry (IHC) autostain machine is limited in the amount of samples it can load and stain with reagent to evaluate the biopsy, patients have to wait longer to know their cancer diagnosis and prognosis. Or, if the machine is unreliable, it may be impossible to determine the patient’s prognosis. To help its hospital and diagnostics laboratory customers get accurate information to doctors and patients as quickly as possible, one of the largest OEMs needed a consistent motion controller for a 60-slide capacity IHC benchtop autostain machine.

“Failure is not an option with these types of machines,” says Phil Brown, VP-General Manager at Pro-Dex OMS. “The OEM conducted rigorous independent reliability testing on all prospective motion control suppliers. After running ours 24-hours a day, seven days a week for over a month without fail, they knew they had found their OEM partner.”

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Pro-Dex OMS four-axis motion controller for USB

By utilizing Pro-Dex OMS’ motion controller, the OEM was able to develop a 60-slide three axis machine that was a cut-above anything that was on the market at the time and that served both lab and hospital customers well. But as cancer biopsies increased, so did the demand for IHC staining processes. In order for a lab to produce more throughput, it needed a machine that could increase its volume of work and accelerate the analysis.

The OEM determined that a machine with an 84-slide capacity within an XYZ envelope would meet its customers’ throughput needs. And to ensure that they were able to develop a viable solution that gave the lab customers greater capacity to diagnose more patient biopsy samples, the OEM chose to rely on its proven motion control partner, Pro-Dex OMS.

Custom Solutions for Accurate Results
In order for an IHC benchtop machine to work efficiently and effectively—regardless of the number of slides—the motion controller connected to the machine must gracefully move dispensers over the slides and disperse an accurate amount of reagent fluid onto each biopsy sample. The motion controller must also carefully control how much fluid is dispersed. This flow of movement from slide to slide, or from slide to a washing station must be accurate and seamless. If the controller’s movement is shaky, too much fluid could be dispersed onto the biopsy sample or remain on the sample too long. This can mean inaccurate results, lost readings, and spoiled samples.

To best fit the existing application, prevent spillage that could hinder the testing process, and offer customized solutions that incorporated other features—like fluidics—Pro-Dex OMS determined that its PCIx-004 four-axis ½-stack motion controller would be the best option for the OEM customer’s 84-slide machine. This motion controller not only gave the OEM an increased throughput solution for both hospital and lab customers, it also achieved the goal of reducing the amount of space that the machine took up.

Thinking Outside the Box
“Space is incredibly limited in these labs. More slides often mean that more counter space is occupied. Our main challenge was to create a highly accurate and efficient 84-slide IHC benchtop XYZ machine while protecting precious lab space,” explains Brown. “Initially, the customer’s motion controller was inside a control box which sat on the table next to the computer. They would plug the computer into the control box and then the control box ran the machine. By getting rid of the control box and putting the PCIx motion controller inside the OEM’s existing PC, we were able to free up counter space and provide faster data transfer to the computer.”

Plugging the motion controller directly into the PC bus and tightly coupling the motion controller and fluidics together meant that the software could communicate more effectively with the motion controller. In turn, this allowed the motion controller to more accurately direct the dispensers and do so without delays. The I/O signal integrated into the motion controller also ensured a fluid, smooth, seamless movement and accurate start and flow of the reagent.

Incorporating the controls of the fluidics and other devices within the system into the motion controller was unique in that it was customized to fit the OEM’s application perfectly. This accelerated the timeline for producing the 84-slide machine, making it possible for the OEM to expand its customer base, sell the new and improved machine to more labs, and help more patients receive a diagnosis in a shorter time-frame.

Identifying Inefficiencies and Reducing Cost
As a preferred supplier to many world-class OEMs, Pro-Dex OMS understands how important continuous cost savings is to the long-term success of its OEM partners.

“Our OEM customer had been purchasing off-the-shelf devices and subassemblies for the machine. For example, they’d purchase the motion controller from us (Pro-Dex OMS), and then their fluidics products from elsewhere, etc.,” says Brown. “Because the most challenging component of the XYZ machine is the motion controller, it made more sense to leverage the expertise of the Pro-Dex OMS team. We could incorporate the other required functions directly into the motion controller, eliminating the need for the other off-the-shelf devices.”

Going directly to one supplier, instead of three or four, cut unnecessary expenditures, saved the OEM a significant amount of time, and resulted in a more efficient and reliable end product. It also gave the OEM a solid platform upon which to develop next generation machines in coordination with its R&D group.

Moving Forward to Advance Patient Prognosis
With a successful 60-slide and 84-slide IHC benchtop XYZ machine in its product portfolio, the OEM partner leapfrogged the competition due, in large part, to the contribution of Pro-Dex OMS. But in the highly competitive environment of hospital and laboratory diagnostics, competitive advantage is an ongoing process. To ensure that the next generation of the machine reduces even more cost, time, and space in the lab, the Pro-Dex OMS team continues to innovate the motion control design.

A common challenge for most labs is that every autostain machine has to have its own computer, monitor, and keyboard. This takes up considerable space in an already crowded lab. To help solve this important problem, Pro-Dex OMS has developed a new motion controller for the OEM’s platform that can operate all four machines in an 84-slide XYZ system through a single PC using a USB or Ethernet connection. This solution is achieved by installing Pro-Dex OMS’ customized UMX motion controller directly into the IHC benchtop machine. Fewer computers, monitors, and keyboards means more space in the lab to put additional IHC benchtop machines—or other type of diagnostic instruments—into the lab, while simultaneously reducing costs associated with PC repair and software upgrade costs.

At this time, several prototypes of Pro-Dex OMS’ UMX motion control solution have been delivered to the OEM customer for testing and evaluation.

“Reliability, accuracy, and efficiency is everything with these machines, so extensive testing is essential,” shares Brown. “We’re confident that their results will show that the UMX adds significant value to their machine and greatly benefits the patients that rely on it for their prognosis.”

Scott Frederick is the business development manager at Pro-Dex OMS. He is responsible for ensuring that customers get exactly what their application requires. Frederick can be reached at 800-707-8111 or scott.frederick@pro-dex.com.

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