Engineering Design Partnership Yields Progeny and Progeny X2 Analyzers
By Jim Romeo, Engineering Services
Designing a product for useful, but complex engineering functionality is a tall order that requires a collaborative and proactive design team. When the Tucson-based Rigaku Raman Technologies team wanted to design the next-generation material analyzer, they built a partnership with Smithwise, formerly Boston Device Development (BDD). As a design partner, BDD helped them incorporate all the needed ingredients, plus create the right synergy with their own personnel. This partnership was the genesis of the Progeny and Progeny X2 analyzer design.
The Progeny and Progeny X2 analyzers are portable instruments designed for high-performance chemical analysis using Raman spectroscopy — employing laser technology to decipher chemical makeup by measuring the amount of scattered light that bounces off various materials. The scattered light is compared against a library of thousands of known chemicals.
Progeny analyzers are used in a variety of applications, including raw material identification, research and development, quality assurance, anti-counterfeiting, homeland security and teaching labs.
The Technological Wonder of Spectroscopy
For example, if a factory was expecting a large shipment of pharmaceuticals, a Raman spectrometer could use spectroscopy to positively identify the materials so there was no ambiguity, error or confusion as to what was inside the shipment — without having to open it. It’s a technological wonder that prevents error, saving time and ultimately cost.
Another example is the first responder working in a hazardous materials situation. He encounters a substance that cannot be identified by sight. With a Raman spectrometer, he can determine whether the substance is dangerous, allowing for an appropriate course of action to be formulated.
In its latest design effort, Rigaku sought an analyzer that could be used with a variety of applications.
“The opportunity, and challenge, of this design effort was to accommodate a large and varied group of end users and applications,” says BDD Principal Derek Hatchett.
A Progeny analyzer can examine powders, liquids and solids. It is used for chemical identification only, and not with metal or alloys. It is used principally for the pharmaceutical and chemicals industries, as well as in academic, safety and security environments.
From Concept to Production
Newton, MA-based BDD was responsible for all phases of development, from early concept efforts and industrial design to engineering and production. The two teams worked very closely throughout the project.
“BDD’s experience in all areas of product development helped drive the project from concept to manufacturing,” explains Rigaku VP of Product Development Claude Robotham. “They expertly built a physical unit that supported our unusually varied target market.”
The partnership set out to define design parameters to set the objectives for the final product. This helped align all stakeholders in the design team.
“There were a number of opposing design parameters that required our careful consideration and balance. The final device needed to be extremely lightweight, while also being able to offer swappable batteries and survive a drop test,” says Hatchett. “These parameters ultimately led to the device’s thin walls and exterior material choice.”
The team began to develop and test configurations incrementally, so that they could isolate the functionality and performance of its characteristics. BDD worked with foam models to create Progeny’s product embodiment, prototyping early and often to test different configurations.
Every subsystem had to be explored and decoupled from the whole to achieve the best result. They used a decision-matrix analysis known as the Pugh method, whereby pros and cons are listed and evaluated against one another in relation to a baseline option. It is common practice in technical design and development, named after Stuart Pugh of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, as an approach for selecting concept alternatives.
“The most important phase of the design process was the Pugh analysis in which we explored different product architectures, including the pros and cons of tablet, wand and pistol forms,” says Hatchett. “In addition to serving end users, Pugh analysis enables client teams to sell the final design of the device internally.”
An important part of the design effort was the process discipline associated with design team interaction. The team structure and its interactive processes played a critical role in making productive progress. The BDD-Rigaku team collaborated every week, both remotely and in person. BDD also held regularly scheduled internal and external project meetings on a weekly basis.
As Eric Sugalski, the founder and principal of BDD, explains, “We provide real-time files through our FTP site. Our clients can watch our progress literally on a daily basis if they want to because our project management dashboard shows progress in small increments. This approach is very different than what product design firms did in the past, when client and project teams worked more or less in isolation from each other, with one big unveiling after three months of effort.”
The entire project lasted for less than one year, from concept to production — ahead of schedule.
“BDD’s approach produced a final product much faster than what we originally anticipated,” Robotham says. “By working collaboratively, we were able to meet a very aggressive timeline and budget.”
Prototyping the analyzer was a key step in the design process. BDD provided initial renderings based on Rigaku’s vision, followed by a detailed Pugh analysis to determine the best option.
“One of the exciting aspects of the project,” Hatchett explains, “is that we had a unique opportunity to develop one of Rigaku’s first products in a few years. We were, therefore, in a position to look at how Progeny’s design language could refresh and build upon the Rigaku brand.”
Part of the development also looked at existing products with competing features and technology. This allowed them to shape the analyzer’s final characteristics with its viability in the marketplace. “BDD looked at the competitive Raman spectroscopy landscape. As a team, we researched existing products and produced product positioning maps that charted where we wanted to be in comparison to others in the market,” Sugalski says.
Technology Begets Technology
The specifics of the product design entailed working with various design software. The BDD team used Rhino, SolidWorks and the Adobe Creative Suite. These programs were used through both the mechanical engineering and industrial design efforts. The software allowed BDD to work easily with the Rigaku team, which used several CAD packages.
“The project benefitted greatly from using Master Models in SolidWorks. Rather than having to rebuild the database from scratch when major project changes occurred, the team remained nimble in the face of unexpected changes,” notes Lead BDD Engineer Rob Colonna.
But as with any technical and complex design, the team had some stumbling blocks and challenges along the way.
“Two of the biggest design challenges included instrument weight and the desire to have a completely sealed device,” Colonna reports. “The team wanted to develop a robust instrument, but also needed to keep the device weight reasonable.”
The design process was accelerated by aggressive internal deadlines that ensured that the device was completed two months prior to the Pittsburgh Conference of Analytic Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, the analyzer’s scheduled launch. Adding several buffers into the schedule ensured that the team had the ability to react to the unexpected.
The Team Machine
Project teams that pursue research and product development simultaneously will always encounter unavoidable changes.
“The result of conducting fundamental research simultaneously with product development,” Hatchett explains, “is that when changes are made, it creates a ripple effect throughout the project, thus requiring a team to be flexible and pivot quickly.”
The Progeny project effort also reveals the opportunity in combining a company’s core internal strengths with an outside partner to provide fresh perspective on an existing product line. Rigaku showed tremendous business creativity in leveraging its expertise in optics with BDD’s proficiency in product development to build a market-expanding device like Progeny.
What the team accomplished was something that probably would not have taken place years ago — they were disparately located, but acted cohesively thanks to technology and a well-structured design process. The BDD team excelled at managing a multi-faceted team located in multiple locations. The interactions among team members are one of the most important facets of a successful design team, and the relationship and interaction between Rigaku, BDD and other stakeholders, was exemplary. Communication was critical in maintaining cohesion among BDD engineers in Massachusetts, Rigaku engineers in Arizona, and suppliers located in multiple states.
“Never underestimate the amount of communication that is required for a virtual, at-a-distance project environment,” Hatchett concludes.