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Streamlined Optical Assembly Delivers

Photonics Spectra
May 2000
Daniel C. McCarthy

Molecular Dynamics develops and manufactures instruments for high-throughput DNA sequencing and molecular biology research. The complexity of these instruments requires the company to rely on multiple suppliers for the manufacture of its components. Molecular Dynamics then assembles final systems at its facility in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Last December, the company released its new generation of variable-mode imagers called Typhoon. The flatbed scanners enable researchers to apply multicolor fluorescence, chemofluorescence, chemiluminescence and filmless autoradiography techniques with one protocol. Genomics researchers can toggle Typhoon's integrated objectives to obtain multiple reads of a sample without manipulating it.

In addition, Typhoon delivers a limit of detection that is an order of magnitude better than earlier iterations, according to Mike Gluszczak, a senior systems engineer at the company. The scanner can detect a fluorescent signal from a 50-µm spot.

Part of the challenge Gluszczak faced in producing an improved scanner was linked to the scan head, which required assembly of several components. "We needed a particular mirror used to steer the laser beam on the scan head," he explained. "This particular optic is difficult to fabricate and produce on a manufacturing scale."

Given the optic's specifications, Gluszczak anticipated a long lead time for its delivery. He selected Melles Griot's Photonics Components Div. as the supplier for the mirror components and, after sending the company his material specifications, learned that it could furnish a completed assembly.

The original design for the mirror assembly was a two-step process in which the optics were aligned and bonded before they were attached to a metal baseplate. With assistance from Gluszczak, Melles Griot's engineers were able to offer an alternative.

Engineering-phase collaboration allowed Melles Griot to simplify the optical component assembly (highlighted) for the Typhoon imaging scanner. The scanner's optics adjust automatically to read gels sandwiched between glass plates. Courtesy of Molecular Dynamics.

"By doing both the glass assembly and the baseplate, we were responsible for alignment at the subassembly level, which allowed us to relax the specifications and cost on the glass and eliminate the tight glass-to-glass bonding process," said Kent Weed, a quality and engineering manager for the Photonics Components Div. "This reduced time and costs associated with both manufacturing procedures and materials."

"It saved us an enormous amount in terms of parts and tooling," Gluszczak said. "This allowed us to build an instrument more reliably and cost-effectively."

Melles Griot delivered a prototype of the assembly in under three weeks and reduced the original lead time by 50 percent. Weed attributed part of his company's success to Molecular Dynamics' willingness to collaborate at the engineering phase of the project.

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