Cutting-edge lab microscope production in 5 weeks

Who has the confidence to bring forward a product introduction during a global pandemic? Over the summer vacation, CytoSMART worked closely with NTS Precision on the final engineering and manufacturing of its new flagship product, the Lux3. For this article, we sit down with CytoSMART CTO Jan-Willem van Bree and Account Engineer Sjoerd Waelbers of NTS Precision to discuss the engineering and production of CytoSMART’s new lab microscope.

Image above: from left to right, Jeroen Sprankenis (Business Development at NTS), Jan-Willem van Bree (CTO at CytoSMART), Sjoerd Waelbers (Account Engineer at NTS)

CytoSMART, a Dutch scale-up in Eindhoven, is the creator of a range of kinetic live-cell imaging products that enable laboratory researchers to continuously monitor and analyse their cell cultures. CytoSMART offers a range of imaging products and tools for analysis such as monitoring software and cloud-based image analysis algorithms. Their products are used in, for example, cancer treatment research and vaccine development. Its latest lab microscope, the Lux3, is launched on November 3rd, 2020 and the company has worked closely with NTS Precision in Eindhoven, and NTS Finish in Bergeijk on both engineering and production. NTS Precision is based on the brand new NTS Campus in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

Image: On the left, an image of the CytoSMART Lux3. On the right side, one of the components for the CytoSMART Lux3 microscope.

Engineering to manufacturability

“We decided to move the product launch forward, just before my vacation,” says Jan-Willem van Bree, CytoSMART CTO. “Our products and software are both fully developed in-house but we have partnered with NTS Precision because of their state-of-the-art manufacturing knowhow and capabilities. They provide us with practical engineering input based on the manufacturability of our functional model and are subsequently able to produce the required product at the high quality level we require.”

“We help customers arrive at a product that is actually manufacturable at a price point that makes sense for them,” explain Sjoerd Waelbers, Account Engineer at NTS Precision. “With our state of the art machining equipment, we can basically make anything. But the most ambitious designs might require custom tooling or a larger investment in production time than is necessary to deliver the high quality product the engineers envisioned. We help our customers take these tradeoffs into account in their engineering, which is a unique capability of ours.”

Manufacturing partnership

Jan-Willem agrees with Sjoerd: “We used to work with separate engineering and contract manufacturers before partnering with NTS. The problem was, the engineers didn’t take manufacturability into account and the contract manufacturer stuck to the drawing no matter what. At no point would anyone tell us, ‘you might want to do it differently’. Until we came to NTS that is. Now we know our design is going to be put to the test according to their exacting standards, and that has challenged us to further improve our internal design processes as well.”

First time right engineering and production

For the Lux3, CytoSMART decided to move the product launch forward after consulting with NTS. CytoSMART engineers sat down with NTS Precision specialists to discuss the design and production. Jan-Willem:

“In that first meeting, the people from NTS Precision reviewed all aspects of our design, questioning it. Not to limit us but to really understand what we were looking to achieve. During that meeting, we already received many suggestions that would help make the Lux3 more manufacturable while retaining the core of what would make our new product great. Together, we made the planning for the coming 5 weeks during which we would both refine our design and complete production.”

During production, NTS Precision and CytoSMART were in continuous, close communication. Because of the time pressure, minor issues with the design came up during production which would normally impact the timing significantly. This partnership operated differently according to Sjoerd, “For example, at one point, our quality control noticed that one component had warped ever so slightly even though its design was similar to the previous product. Different dimensions required a thicker material in one area. I contacted the lead engineer of CytoSMART and together we discussed the problem and our solution that wouldn’t impact the price. Production could continue within an hour.”

Finishing touch

NTS Finish was to apply the required premium powdercoating finish to the Lux3’s components and this part of the production process was incorporated from the start. “We called our colleagues at NTS Finish straight after the first meeting to tell them what they could expect at which date. We already knew exactly how the finish would work with each component and the product as a whole from both our earlier work and our experience with other customers,” says Sjoerd. “We didn’t even need to consult with them for this project.”

And as promised, NTS delivered the finished precision parts at CytoSMART’s offices within 5 weeks of Jan-Willem returning from vacation. All high quality finished parts were carefully packed, numbered and coded, ready for assembly.

“It was a dream scenario, everything fits as designed and we have a functioning product in time for our global launch. We had every confidence in our engineers and NTS but it still feels great when it all works out as we had planned it. And now that one part of the company is preparing for the marketing launch of the Lux3, our engineers have started working on our next innovation in kinetic live-cell imaging.”

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