Labs Gain Precision and Productivity



HEITEC supported innovative NanoPhotometer® technology from IMPLEN GmbH with its electronics and supply chain management expertise.

The photometrical analysis of nucleic acids, proteins, and cell cultures is part of the daily routine in every modern laboratory. As with all areas of electronics, and due to increasing mobility needs and the progress in industry and research, laboratory analysis devices continue to become increasingly smaller, more sophisticated, accurate, and powerful. IMPLEN GmbH is a leading specialist provider of high-quality, easy-to-use spectrophotometric instruments for analyzing ultra-low-volume samples, particularly in biological, chemical, and pharmaceutical laboratories. As part of the product portfolio, the company’s NanoPhotometers® provide an affordable, sensitive, reliable and portable way to achieve precise results[1].

For its new generation of NanoPhotometers IMPLEN commissioned HEITEC to provide a carrier board for the processing module. In close cooperation with IMPLEN’s R&D department, HEITEC took over the supply chain management of the electronic control unit and the production of the carrier board. HEITEC was also responsible for the documentation and the testing of the carrier board, which had to meet various demanding specifications.

The Requirement Set for Delivering Highly Accurate Results

IMPLEN’s universal NanoPhotometers combine measurements of sub-microliter sample volumes and standard sample volumes. The final products are used for liquid analysis in laboratories in industry and research—often for the most diverse purposes—and to deliver highly accurate results: Just to give a few examples, the available spectral scan range is 200nm to 900nm. The average dynamic range for undiluted dsDNA is between 1 ng/μl and 16,500 ng/μl. For proteins, it is between 0.03 mg/ml and 478 mg/ml.

Figure 1: An IMPLEN NanoPhotometer®.

The IMPLEN NanoPhotometers feature compact stand-alone operation, including up to 10 hours of battery power. Relying on extensive I/O functionality, the control unit includes options for controlling the instrument via PC, smartphone, tablet, and optional built-in, glove-compatible LCD touchscreen. At the same time the models offer the smallest sample requirement (0.3 µl), built-in vortexer, broad dynamic range, fast scan times, and lifelong accuracy without need for maintenance or recalibration. Based on the available methods for single/multiple wavelength and concentration measurements, full spectrum scans, and standard curve determinations as well as ratio calculations and even kinetics are possible. Due to its versatility and ability to measure sub-microliter sample volumes, the NanoPhotometer® is a very useful analysis tool for any molecular biology lab using technologies like Real-Time PCR, sequencing, and Microarray based applications.

These deployment areas define a whole set of requirements such as advanced connectivity to offer accessibility via portables and easy monitoring from any PC with fast and flexible connection options including LAN, USB, or Wi-Fi for data export or printing options.

Data safety, data output, flexibility, robustness, ergonomics, and efficiency in a lightweight, compact and mobile housing solution were therefore prerequisites for the design. Achieving compactness— in combination with cost and energy efficiency—played as important role in the selection of electronics and components as solving the technical aspects did. For control, data management, and precise analysis results in the smallest volume range, extensive functions as well as a complex operating system and numerous interfaces had to be implemented. This included a touch controller interface, an LVDS interface to the TFT panel, and the integration of an external audio codex for encoding of audio streams as well as controlled foil heating. Beyond control via computer, tablet, or smartphone, important preconditions also included a powerful heat management and energy-efficient operation, since the device runs on batteries and must function reliably and maintenance-free.

Figure 2: IMPLEN’s NanoPhotometer® technology provides advanced mobile spectrophotometry.

Mobility

For successful mobile deployment, the system had to be streamlined (the current NanoPhotometer® N60 measures 200 mm in depth and width and is only 120 mm high) with an attractive appearance. Therefore, the most demanding and limiting factor to realizing the device was integrating the electronics into compact, light and good-looking housing. Considering these predefined system requirements, HEITEC had a number of reason to select a carrier board based on a Qseven module from partner company congatec, part of HEITEC’s wide-ranging network. HEITEC also provided consultancy for the selection of the most appropriate module.

The Qseven standard offers various advantages in terms of compactness, comprehensive data management and connectivity, as well as long term usability. Compared to COM Express Basic and CompactPCI and SMARC, Qseven enables slimmer mechanical housings. It allows for the use of different processor architectures and supports mobile and ultra-low power consumption applications. Targeting next generation ultra-mobile embedded processors using the latest mobile chip technologies, the Qseven format complements the low power and small size of these processors. Customers are able to use all kinds of modules without the need to change the carrier board. By exploiting the small form factor of the industry’s latest processors, the format offers high performance computing power at only 70 x 70 mm² (or alternatively 40×70 mm²), matching the space constraints of the application layout in an ideal way.

Going with the Qseven standard avoided the need for expensive board-to-board connectors, instead utilizing the standardized pinout of the module, which offers great flexibility. The functionality includes, but is not limited to graphics, sound, mass storage, network, and multiple USB ports. A single ruggedized MXM connector serves as the carrier board interface to carry all the I/O signals to and from the module. This MXM connector is a popular, proven high-speed signal interface connector that is commonly used for high-speed PCI Express graphics cards. The benefit: Designers can utilize as little or as many of the I/O interfaces as necessary, which is vital for handling data in high quantities. This approach allowed IMPLEN to install its software without huge expenditure. Data is saved on the internal NanoPhotometer® memory of up to 32 GB and can easily be shared or transferred to computers or data devices by using different connections.

The carrier board and module provided all the interface connectors required to attach the system to the application specific peripherals; this versatility facilitated the creation of a dense and optimized package, which resulted in a more reliable product while simplifying system integration. IMPLEN could easily incorporate its display solution. Furthermore, Qseven is scalable, which means that the design makes it possible to diversify the product range without redesigns according to changing needs. In sum, the chosen technology offers the latest I/O technologies including serial high-speed buses on this minimum size form factor, and can be attached to other modules by using a simple mechanism. Ideally for small mobile solutions, the carrier board can operate with single 5V DC power and features all additional signals for battery management, powered by two compact cell batteries.

Most importantly, the carrier board could be adopted in shape without difficulty, offering recesses where needed, to fit in all the components and electronics for extensive functionality, and maximize the use of space despite constraints and the compact system size. Finally, this technology selected by HEITEC is a legacy free standard focused on high speed serial interfaces such as PCI Express and Serial ATA and permits support for legacy interfaces as well, in order to provide ideal support for today‘s, as well as future, mobile CPUs and chipsets for enhanced investment safety.

Summary

In close cooperation with IMPLEN’s R&D department, HEITEC took over the supply chain management of the electronic control unit, provided consultancy regarding module technology, the documentation, the production in samples and volume, and the testing of the carrier board. The customer received comprehensive services and procurement from a single source to quickly and efficiently realize its innovative solution. Working with congatec, an Intel® technology partner, contributed to success in bringing precise results to spectrophotometry—along with affordability, mobility, and other benefits.

The result is a compact, high-performance laboratory analysis device featuring an attractive, robust, compact and mobile design, with the ability to operate stand-alone, while delivering accurate and linear results in real-time without any need for recalibration.


Michael Naghdtschi is Head of Sales for Southern Bavaria at HEITEC AG, in this role taking ownership of business development activities. Naghdtsch is also responsible for marketing the company’s service portfolio, including hard- and firmware development from the chip level up to systems ready for serial production. FPGA design, PCB and systems development, PCB assembly and electronic packaging as well as development services for the test and measurement, are focus areas. He is also key account manager for Siemens, Bosch, Infineon Technologies, and MTU Aero Engines. Naghdtschi holds a degree in economics of the University of Augsburg. He may be reached at Michael.Naghdtschi@heitec.de

 

[1] All brand and product names mentioned herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders.

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