About five years ago, at the start of this Development Stories series, I wrote about management tools for micropipettes. In this first Development Story of 2015, I will summarize the development process behind our unique recharging device for our electronic micropipettes. I apologize for the delay in releasing this article, which was almost finished in October of last year, but the last days of 2014 turned into quite a busy time for me, both at work and at home, and progress was stalled for about three months.

Micropipettes are devices that are used without fail in fields that employ analytical balances, which are typified by microbalances. The “electronic” single-channel pipette, which is perceived in this pipette market as being an “unsellable” device, is said to only hold an insignificant 1% market share in Japan. Nevertheless, A&D has daringly set about developing an electronic single-channel pipette as a brand new product and has now released this in the market. Pipettes are uncharted territory for A&D and mean entering a new market for us. In order to compete in a market with no previous results, we designed an original pipette and carefully planned the product development schedule right through to mass production. However, people’s views on this new – and perhaps even foolhardy – challenge of gaining a foothold, and then hopefully a strong reputation, in this pipette market were pessimistic to say the least. We were even told, by people both within and outside A&D who were knowledgeable in this industry, that we had no right to be successful in this new enterprise and it was doomed to failure! Even within A&D, we had hardly any advocates at the beginning for embarking on such a tough journey, and to be honest, not even I had any strong self-assurance that we would be able to sell our newly developed pipette.

A regular thought I have is that development of a new product with previously unavailable functionality or breaking into a new market is a lot like climbing a mountain. When I mention mountain climbing here I am referring not so much to any technical challenges, but the sense of adventure that grips certain people and compels them to venture into the wilds and potential risk. If you define sense of adventure as moving into an unknown field, adventurous mountain climbing means that if your technical ability, strength or ability to reflect upon previous experiences is lacking, you are unlikely to make it to the top. Even supposing that you could make it to the summit, a safe descent is far from guaranteed. For new product development, when attempting development in a new field or developing products with more sophisticated functionality and performance than ever before, your efforts can easily end in failure. Therefore, for both pursuits, it is essential to set your goals properly at the beginning, apply an indispensable risk management approach to preliminary research and target achievements, and acquire a new set of skills and techniques. It is also vital to be able to handle a variety of problems or changes in circumstances and to approach the goals with flexible skills for handling these matters. In addition to these important criteria, perseverance when faced with difficulties and a “never-say-die” attitude will often result in success.

However, among all of the factors that contribute to success or failure, I think the most important criterion is personally having the passion to want to create a new product or to make it to the summit of a mountain.

Speaking from personal experiences, even if you fail in your attempts at product development or mountain climbing, if you put in as much effort as you can in the circumstances, the chances of tasting success the next time are very high. This is testimony to the fact that the only real way people have of learning is through their failures and that if we critically and objectively analyze our own experiences in failure and can take them on board, we have a much higher chance of success at our next attempt.

One of the goals we set ourselves for development of an electronic pipette was to stick to our own brand. About six years ago, we started selling devices for pipette quality and performance management. Since then, from our experiences in all the relevant stages – from planning through development to sales – of those products, we have been aware of the underlying problems of manual pipettes which currently dominate the market. Further, as a result of considerable market research before embarking on development, we also had a clear idea of what the problems were for existing electronic pipettes. From all these, we came to the conclusion that we had to develop a new type of electronic pipette which was highly unique and addressed all of the problems that could potentially occur in the actual places of use.

The newly developed electronic pipette was recognized as having high precision in multiple dispensing, being durable and hard to break, and being simple to operate with practically no risk of incurring repetitive strain injury. This led to it earning a reputation beyond even our own expectations. Once development of the unit itself was finished, the next problem we turned our minds to was the need to develop a convenient charging device which could keep the pipette in an upright position and allow simple charging in that state. All of the existing electronic pipette chargers were large standing types which allowed simultaneous charging of about four pipettes at a time.

Visiting a few laboratories for our own research, we found that existing chargers occupied a large space on the laboratory table, generally cost nearly as much as the pipettes themselves, and seemed to reduce the amount of freedom researchers had for installation. So with the assumption that researchers had a dearth of free space upon their laboratory tables, we set about developing a charging hanger which could be placed in any location they wanted. Our charging hanger was devised as having a similar form to manual pipette hangers, but with additional charging functionality. It should be a compact design which could be attached anywhere, such as the side of the laboratory table or to a medicine rack, etc., and also be capable of linking several units to the same power source for simultaneous charging. Keeping these specifications as our goals, we released a charger hanger for an electronic pipette onto the laboratory market with unprecedented ease of use, which could be freely placed anywhere at the user’s convenience, took up little space, and allowed use of multiple units at the same time.

I should share a few more details of our newly developed charging hanger. While offering a space where our MPA Series pipettes can be kept in a vertical position, the MPA pipette will start to be automatically recharged as soon as it is placed. Therefore when research work is wrapped up in the evening, by simply hanging the MPA pipette in its holder before returning home, the pipette will be fully recharged the next morning when you return to work, available for use straight away.

In general, one user uses more than one pipette, so we made it possible to recharge multiple MPA pipettes simultaneously by lining up multiple charging hangers. As it would be extremely cumbersome to have multiple units each connected separately to the AC power supply, once supplying power to one of those hanger units it can act as the “parent” hanger, with subsequent “child” units being connected to this first one by linking cables. It is also possible to confirm the hangers are receiving power by an LED light on the top of the hanger which illuminates when power is flowing. With this development it is possible to avoid the risk of all hangers going out of action if one of the consecutively wired hangers was to fail for some reason. A&D has applied for patents for these previously unavailable functionalities. By commercializing such products as this, we hope to continue pursuing and proposing convenience in laboratories around the world.

I believe that with the combined use of the MPA Series and their charging hangers we have established a simple method of use for pipetting work in the laboratory which is more accurate, places no strain on the user’s hands and offers a simple technique for recharging. From here on, I would like to continue growing this range of products even further with pipettes with increased capacity, multiple-channel types, connectable pipette stands and other further developments.

In the more than 100 years since Louis Pasteur’s breakthroughs establishing the field of microbiology, Western medicine has advanced remarkably to its present sophisticated levels. With its origins in the glass pipette, the micropipette, capable of measuring minute amounts of liquids to a high degree of precision, has been one of the essential tools in supporting these achievements, as a requisite piece of equipment in a biotechnology lab.

Presently, over 100,000 micropipettes are sold in Japan every year, and worldwide sales amount to over a million. Major pharmaceutical firms will often have several thousand micropipettes at just one of their main research laboratories. Micropipettes’ two most valuable characteristics are their ability to dispense tiny amounts of liquids, together with the easy handling provided by disposable pipette tips, which retain the sample being measured via air pressure, providing a reduction in occurrences of pipette contamination and also of the laborious process of cleaning pipettes. As a result, it could be said that micropipettes have made a significant contribution to improving the quality and productivity of testing and inspecting processes and are an indispensable tool in many aspects of biotechnology, pharmaceutical, foodstuff and clinical research.

While this convenience of use has meant the micropipette has come to be used in a wide variety of situations around the world, it would be hard to say there is a firmly established method for micropipette management. One of the reasons for this is the lack of an established method for managing its volumes as a quantity-measuring device. For example, while pipettes can determine volume, they are different from weighing machines in that they do not use weights or equivalent which can act as a reference standard for managing volume. This could be considered a very serious problem. Presently in pipette makers’ reports of results, volume (V) is determined from a calculation of V = m ÷ρ, where the coefficient of ρ is the density of purified water, which is a known quantity, and mass (m) is found by dispensing the purified water with a pipette on the tray of a balance and reading the displayed amount. However, the density of the water will change according to its temperature, so it is necessary to perform density correction at each different temperature. Another problem that could arise in practice is the pipette user dispensing a liquid other than water, with a different density. Further, the viscosity of water at 20°C of 1.002 mPa•s is extremely small and even a water solution with 50% glycerol will result in a viscosity level several times higher than purified water. Therefore, even if the pipette is calibrated with water, the density and viscosity of the liquid that is actually dispensed could differ from calibrated water and the interchangeability of the volumes will not be ensured, due to differences in the viscous resistance.

With micropipettes, the differences in air pressure created by the movement of the built-in piston are used for aspirating and dispensing of the liquid. Therefore, even with the same volume settings, differences in volumes will occur not only due to the viscosity and density of the liquid, but also the shape and material used for the tip. It is probably quite clear then, that with these conditions influencing measurement, dispensing volumes which differ from the pipette’s report of results is a quite a concern in many cases.

Besides such technical problems, there are also problems connected to the method of use of the pipette user. Namely, there are often individual differences in the manner of operation between users, as the pipette is held in the hand all day and it is also a very small tool to handle. Further, when the pipette is dropped from a desk or the hand, these kinds of impact loads can cause deformations in the operating rod or damage to the structure, which is associated with a reduction in precision in dispensed volumes.

With considerations such as these ones above, I started to have doubts about current pipette management techniques and thought about what kind of management methods should be used for pipettes under normal circumstances. For example, while you could say that having the pipette maker issue a calibration report once or twice a year is an important management technique, it is unrealistic to confidently assert that traceability or validation can be ensured in between periodic inspections that only occur once or twice a year. Further, even if calibration is performed with purified water and the tip specified by the manufacturer, there are other variations that can occur at the place of use other than the constitution of the liquid or the type of tip used, such as influences of the measurement environment or the degree of expertise of the user. I could only come to the conclusion that it is difficult to ensure traceability in the place of measurement with just the pipette maker’s report of results used for reference. Next, considering a solution to these problems, I was able to put my many years of experience in development of weighing devices to work by summarizing my proposed measures into the following two points:

1. As a precision weighing device manufacturer, we have a duty to provide to the market a management tool which can allow daily and periodic checks of pipettes at their place of use.

2. A new pipette is needed which allows pipette calibration management that reflects the actual conditions it is used under.

These two points above would be satisfied by providing, for example, devices that allow testing the pipette at the place of use when any kind of trouble eventuates, such as dropping it or aspirating too much liquid; a pipette equipped with a calibration function that applies the tip and liquid used, making it easy to perform calibration that actually fits the conditions at the place of use; and measures by which pipette maintenance can be performed easily by the user themselves.

As a result of the considerations mentioned above, in April this year A&D became the first manufacturer in Japan to release a general-use electronic pipette. Preceding this, we also developed a pipette leak tester and accuracy (volume) tester for pipette users five years ago. Using these management tools, it has become possible to create standard operating procedures (SOP) for pipette management to be carried out by users themselves. Further, we have also recently developed the AD-1695 dedicated pipette management tool which does not require the use of a PC. As the AD-1695 allows interactive operation with its graphic user interface, daily and periodic checks of the pipette can be performed with ease at user level.

Our newly released original electronic pipette is equipped with calibration functionality in µl units and allows volume calibration by users themselves. For calibration in µl units with liquids other than water, difficult density measurement of the liquid is required. To help with this, we have also added a new calibration and display function with mg values. By performing measurement and calibration of volume with mg units, measurement and correction of density is no longer required and pipette calibration can then be performed using the mg value displayed by the balance. Having a uniform unit of mg for measurement and calibration means calibration with the liquid and tip to be actually used becomes much easier to perform, and means that a mixture consisting of a measured amount of powder and liquid can be simply and accurately calculated by weight ratio.

With the MPA series of electronic pipettes, the lower part of the device including the piston, which is often subject to contamination, and the main part of the pipette (control and drive parts) are designed as separate units, so can be easily detached from each other. Therefore, sterilization using an autoclave is now possible for the lower part only, and due to the design of the MPA series this part can also be simply disposed of and replaced by anyone when contamination or wear occurs.

As a result of our considerations over the last five years, I think that we have finally achieved a range of nearly ideal micropipettes and accompanying management tools that offer practical solutions for the actual conditions that are encountered in everyday pipette use. I hope that these devices can be used both as an aid to creating SOPs for those responsible for pipette management and also as effective tools for ensuring safe and reassuring use for pipette users. A&D has already prepared original guidelines and documents on these subjects that enable simple creation of SOPs for pipette management. Please feel free to contact us at any time to discuss any matters relating to our pipettes and pipette management tools.

In spring this year, A&D launched our new MPA Series of original electronic single channel pipettes. With our exciting new products in hand, we visited research laboratories across Japan to explain their many benefits, starting in Kyushu’s Fukuoka, then moving to Shikoku Island, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, the Hokuriku region, then finally areas in around Tokyo. Our promotional activities have already extended overseas as well, introducing the MPA Series to laboratories in Korea and conducting some market research there.

In this Development Story, I will summarize what we have learned from this market research and propose practical solutions to some of the problems that pipette users are facing in their place of work.

  • Dispensing liquids with a high level of viscosity

If the viscosity of the dispensed liquid is high, it sticks to the outer perimeter and inner surface of the tip. Liquids that particularly pose a problem are those that stick to the inner wall of the tip. When this happens it is not possible to cleanly discharge or ensure accurate dispensing amounts. Addressing this problem requires, 1) slowing down the aspirating and dispensing speeds so the liquid can be properly transferred; 2) aspirating a larger amount of the liquid beforehand and establishing the dispensed amount based on the amount discharged (this is commonly called reverse mode and reduces the degree of error with the liquid that remains inside the tip); 3) using a tip with a wide circumference to reduce the pressure added to the high viscosity liquid. MPA electronic pipettes have five different speeds of aspiration and dispensing selectable and can be easily set to reverse mode, making more stable dispensing possible.

However, whichever of these methods is used, dispensing liquids with viscosities around 10 times higher than water (10 mPa•s) will always be a problem for micropipettes which rely on air pressure for their operation. A type of dispensing device that has a piston attach the liquid would have to be used for any viscosity level higher than this.

  • Dispensing highly volatile liquids such as solvents

Many researchers feel that the dispensing of highly volatile and low viscosity liquids such as solvents is rather difficult. The cause of this problem is the empty space in the cylinder built into the pipette becoming filled with vapour from the solvent or other volatile liquid. In other words, as soon as the solvent is aspirated the piston is filled with vapour from the solvent, which increases pressure inside the cylinder and forces the solvent to leak out of the tip or makes the dispensing amount inconsistent. In order to avoid this phenomenon, it is recommended to aspirate and discharge the solvent several times before the dispensing is performed to create a constant vapour pressure. This so-called “pre-rinse” practice is recommended for not only solvents, but as an effective general preparation measure to ensure the accuracy of the dispensing process. One of the MPA Series’ many merits is simple switch-only operation of multiple aspiration-discharge actions which are effective for mixing liquids or performing pre-rinse.

  • Operability when performing consecutive dispensing

Dispensing to a 96-well microplate is a difficult operation and even if a multiple channel pipette is used, a high degree of skill and dexterity is required to ensure correct dispensing amounts. When a manual single channel pipette is used for repeated dispensing, the same parallel movement of aspirating and dispensing is needed to be done many times, a frustrating task for the researcher and one which can consume a significant amount of time. With an electronic single channel pipette however, with one touch of the switch an amount equivalent to fill 8 or 12 wells can be aspirated in one go, then evenly dispensed with 8 or 12 touches. Particularly when very precise dispensing is required or when there is a need to reduce wasted use of an expensive solution, using an electronic single channel pipette, which provides easy operation and high accuracy, is shown to be the most effective measure.

  • Consecutive dispensing with an electronic pipette

When multiple dispensing is performed with an electronic pipette, even amounts cannot be ensured and the first time can be a touch short. We also regularly hear that the final dispensed amount can also be insufficient among other complaints. These issues can also occur with manual-type pipettes in principle, however as multiple dispensing cannot be performed with manual pipettes each dispensed amount cannot truly be compared with others and is therefore not acknowledged as a problem.

The cause of this error in multiple dispensing could be explained as a phenomenon generally called “backlash”. Simply put, this is the same as backlash in the steering wheel of a vehicle. Backlash occurs in the steering wheel of a vehicle when it stops moving in one direction and then starts moving in another, with a delayed response due to gaps between the gears or screws. For pipettes, backlash is caused by the looseness of the screw that controls the variable volume as well as slight shifts in position of parts, such as the o-ring for sealing the cylinder, due to variances in pressure between the negative pressure when aspirating and the application of pressure when dispensing, resulting in changes in volume.

From the explanation above, it can be understood that backlash occurs in both manual and electronic pipettes. For manual pipettes, this occurrence of backlash cannot be resolved. However, for electronic pipettes, it can be avoided. This is because the dispensing amount can be stabilized by aspirating more liquid than is required and before dispensing the liquid automatically discharging a minute amount. In the MPA series, we call this function “pre-dispense” and it comes as standard on all models. We are currently applying for patents and trademarks for this function, but meanwhile, with the addition of this function to the MPA Series, the problem of measurement error in the first dispense of multiple dispensing operations typically seen in previous electronic pipettes has been successfully minimized.

With use of this “pre-dispense” function, we have achieved an enormous improvement in dispensing performance, halving the degree of repeatability compared to manual pipettes manufactured by major pipette makers. I’m intending to report concrete details on this in an academic conference in 2014.

  • Compatibility between pipettes and tips

Visiting several research laboratories, we were asked every time about compatibility with tips that are already being used. We insisted that the MPA Series is compatible with existing tips, but the researchers we spoke to were not interested in general terms, but rather in the compatibility with the very tip that they were presently using in their own laboratory. We therefore saw the need to try fitting the MPA Series with most of the tips presently available in the market and check if they deliver accurate dispensing without any leaks. The results are published on our website. From the results of our tests we can say that, with the exception of special tips developed for use only with certain devices, any tip can be used with the MPA Series. However, in tip types with a long overall length, a slight loss in the dispensing amount was noticed. Nevertheless, even in cases such as this, one of the advantages of the MPA series being electronic pipettes is that digital calibration can be easily performed by the user in microliters, or in milligrams like balances. As they can be calibrated at their place of use, the accuracy of the MPA Series can be guaranteed and they can be used with complete peace of mind. (An application for a patent for the digital calibration function of the MPA Series has also been lodged)

  • Breakdown and maintenance

It is generally known that a pipette is a device that will break if it is dropped. For manual pipettes, the push-down axle bending or the base part of the tip holder breaking are commonly reported breaks. There are also problems associated with the user aspirating too much of the liquid leading to rust or corrosion of the piston. With electronic pipettes, there have been many reported cases of the display or even the entire device not working after a fall, which has hindered any increase in sales of these devices. In order to protect what could be called the weak spot on an electronic pipette – the display section at the top – the MPA Series features specialized protectors on each four corners of the head section. The design of these patent-pending protectors realizes highly effective durability for the MPA Series, achieving shock resistance from a 1 meter drop when tested dropping the MPA Series onto a P-tile on a concrete base from that height. There is also no chance of over-aspirations from operation errors, as all aspirations are automatic.

The maintenance of the MPA Series is limited to the so-called lower part of the device, which includes the tip holder and piston. This part can be easily removed and replaced by the user themselves, with the pipette ready to be used once again straight away after calibration has been performed.

  • Pipette management methods

How should pipettes be properly managed in their place of use? We were asked this question on many occasions. Pipettes should be managed in their place of use in accordance with the procedures stated in the document called Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). Broadly speaking, these procedures could be divided into “daily check” and “periodic inspection”, which could be compared to daily checks of a car and official vehicle inspection. Daily check of the pipette includes confirmation that the exterior is undamaged, that there are no problems with its functions like switches, etc., that there are no leaks in the piston area and so forth. Periodic inspection encompasses all the items of a daily check as well as an examination of the performance of the device, which requires validation of amounts measured by the device by either volume or mass. It will be necessary to decide in advance what to do with a faulty device if any problems are detected during these checks and examinations.

As we considered management methods for pipettes at their place of use would be essential in many cases after we sold the MPA Series, we produced a document that acts as a guide to create Standard Operating Procedures. When introducing this document to researchers responsible for management of equipment such as pipettes, we have been receiving extremely positive responses.

Micropipettes are exempted from Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), with the assumption that they are not used on the manufacturing floor. However, they are in fact vital in such places for quality management, not to mention for research and clinical examinations. We believe that in the future it will be hard to tell the difference between skilled hands and beginners when using these electronic pipettes, with improvements in repeatability even for the former group, and the rate of use of these easy-to-use devices will increase significantly.

A&D, as a manufacturer of measurement instruments, has a background of being the first company to develop and commercialise pipette management tools. And finally, using our know how in the field, we have developed our own unique MPA Series of micropipettes. We are anticipating this MPA Series to achieve significant gains in quality, as well as reductions in the burden of repetitive pipetting work, in research laboratories and clinical trials around the world with its durability, ease of use, and exceptional performance.

PM2.5 particulates are becoming a major concern as air-borne contaminants. These micro particles with a diameter of less than 3µm have become subject to new health standards, as when they are inhaled they are too small to be discharged from the lungs and if they remain there for a long time can increase the risk of lung cancer.

Humans breathe a whole lot of air – almost 1500 litres each day. As a result, about 70% of the hazardous substances absorbed by the body comes via the lungs. Usually, even if microparticles stick to the air sacs of the lungs, they are dissolved through the normal functions of the lungs. However, substances such as asbestos or silica are materially stable and do not dissolve in the air sacs of the lungs. It is considered that these substances accumulating in the lungs can lead to a possible risk of cancer. Further, it has also become quite clear that near main trunk roads, vehicle exhaust fumes containing active polluting substances further increase the risk of lung cancer.

While the issue of PM2.5 is very topical, contaminants which are generated far away and drift in the air for a long time do not remain active and are therefore not a serious problem. Rather, the most serious concern is air pollution generated nearby. To be specific, this could come from exhaust fumes from nearby roads, asbestos, silica or lead from soil which is blown up in the wind. There should also be concern in special environments such as pharmaceutical or medical firms that deal with highly potent compounds such as anti-cancer drugs or sites that treat nanoparticles, typified by carbon nanotubes, which are recently drawing attention as new materials.

In particular, within these premises that deal with such hazardous substances, human exposure during synthesizing, production, measurement, separation, collection, etc. is a major issue. The people who manufacture, research and analyze these substances are being placed in the most dangerous circumstances in the course of their duties.

In the measurement of PM2.5 particulates, air is suctioned in from outdoors and passed through a filter. An electronic balance is then used to measure the total amount of microparticles caught in the filter. From news reports such as those we hear from Beijing, with PM2.5 particulates exceeding 300 micrograms per cubic meter of air, we can understand that pollution levels of PM2.5 are determined through weight measurements. Incidentally, the measurement environment for these PM2.5 particulates is subject to extreme restrictions. In order to stabilize measurement with the analytical balance and reduce errors due to moisture absorption, etc., it is stipulated that a measurement environment of 21.5 ±1.5°C and humidity of 35 ±5% must be realized. Also, in order to effectively trap microparticles, a fluorinated filter which can become statically charged very easily and a balance with electrostatic elimination capability are required as well.

At first glance these standards seem quite appropriate, but in order to control the temperature and humidity of a room with balances installed at constant levels, strong breezes are required which will agitate a balance and make stable measurement very difficult. Further, these strong breezes required for controlling temperature and humidity will also cause the hazardous substances trapped in the filters to be stirred up into the air, possibly being inhaled by the researchers conducting the measurement and posing a significant problem. These issues of exposure apply not only to PM2.5 particulates, but all the other hazardous substances mentioned above.

Meanwhile, in recent years devices developed in Europe called balances enclosures, which can seal off hazardous substances, have been drawing a lot of attention as a solution to this problem. Balance enclosures provide the dual functionality of containing these dangerous microparticles and also stabilizing the weight display of the balance. When comparing its capabilities to completely sealed glove boxes or fume hoods which can only perform forced exhaust, the balance enclosure differs in guaranteeing that hazardous microparticles can be easily sealed. Then it occurred to me that creating a measurement environment for PM2.5 particulates by drawing on these features of enclosures might also resolve the problem of exposure to hazardous substances. The remaining problem is therefore how to control temperature and humidity of the air contained by the enclosure while measuring.

Achieving the required measurement environment for PM2.5 particulates for the entire room where an analytical balance is installed requires significant initial facility setup costs, as well as large regular running costs. Also, as mentioned earlier, there is a problem of researchers being exposed to hazardous substances, and it is clear that the balance display inevitably becomes unstable in the end. Further, the high initial cost of the large-scale facilities like those currently being introduced to prefectural institutes for environmental studies is making PM2.5 research very difficult for private enterprises which do not have access to public funds.

Considering these circumstances, I wondered if there wasn’t a possible method for managing the internal humidity and temperature of such a balance enclosure while also keeping the safety functionality of the devices. At that time, the fact that we were manufacturing balance enclosures domestically as an original product suddenly had added merit to us. That is because I conceived the idea that the problems mentioned above could be solved by connecting a balance enclosure to a temperature and humidity controller, as well connecting to a high precision filter unit and then connecting the temperature and humidity controller to the outlet of the filter unit.

Combining these three devices – balance enclosure, temperature and humidity controller and filter unit – is quite simple, but is rendered meaningless when the circulating air inside the unit escapes through the opening section in the front made for operating the measurement apparatus inside. In order to solve this problem, we performed testing for the air’s flow path. As a result, we found that allowing air to flow in from the top of the enclosure, and after stopping this flow with a baffle positioned at the top, allowing the air to be exhausted through the side of the enclosure will successfully let air flow in through the opening at the front. Incidentally, a baffle is a type of control plate configured to control the flow of fluids such as air. The proposed features of this system are not yet included in similar systems either in Japan or overseas, so the assemblage and internal framework of the system was lodged as a patent.

We believe the weighing system proposed here will be widely used for creating a measurement environment for hazardous substances, including PM2.5 particulates, that can be offered at a low price with no further installation work required, which also allows for stable measurement and fully protects the operator from any hazardous substances being measured.

The model below provides a visualization of the basic components of the system.

Weighing system for hazardous substances

I have been publishing these Development Stories for over three years now. Upon reflection, it feels that there is a great number of technical terms appearing in each installment, with the details often quite hard to understand. I have therefore added a yet untold story to this episode. About eight years ago, I was talking to a contractor who was building one of the core components of our balances using a special resin. What he told me then was that people who build or develop new things could be considered technological wizards who can magically pull marvelous new creations out of a hat. This component he was building was designed featuring innovative structure and materials that were world firsts in the balance field. At first, however, with all the many resin cast contractors I had met up to that time, after showing them the plans and discussing the design with them, the answer was always “it’s impossible”. I therefore had a big favor to ask of this developer who I was meeting for the first time. While it was extremely tough for him, the design and production of the part was finally completed and it went on to be successfully incorporated into all further A&D balances resulting in a dramatic improvement in the basic functionality of balances.

Returning to my earlier discussion, at first I did not understand the meaning of the comment that developers are “technological wizards”. What he was getting at was that developing something that did not previously exist in this world is an incredibly creative process that requires a bit of special magic. Prior to that meeting, I was already making it my credo as a developer to realize products that surpass competitors’ in functionality and cost effectiveness. But after being called a wizard I came to think from then onwards that, if I consider my role as a developer in an industrial nation, I should refrain from simply producing for the market a reduced cost version of previously available products and try aiming for some real magic. From that time onwards, if I was not working on a new product where there is nothing similar existing in the market yet, or the product is not targeted toward a special market, I resolved to at the very least add some new value or function to a product when I am performing my development work.

Actually, from around that time onwards, considering products which are completely new creations, A&D has released various products such as a pipette leak tester, weighing data logger, environment logger, tuning fork vibro rheometer and balance analyzer. These products have not been as easy to sell as our other, more traditional types of products in Japan. This may be because A&D is perhaps weak in addressing sales routes for products where detailed explanations are required, but we could also say that Japanese are not, particularly in relation to industrial products, open to trying unique new products and instead wait for new developments to be accepted overseas before making their way to Japan. On the basis of that supposition, I have a fear that our new weighing system for hazardous substances will not be easily sold in the Japanese market as a domestic product. However, whether a new product sells well or doesn’t, as a person engaged in new product development and technology in an industrialized nation, in the end I am still fully committed to continuing the development of unique and exciting new products.

In the previous Development Story, the results of market research into the micropipette market were discussed. However, as this occurred before application for intellectual property rights it was not possible to discuss the details of the technology involved in this new product. In this episode I will explain the aims of the development of the MPA Series of electronic pipettes and the functionality we devised to actually realize those aims.

It has been more than half a century since manual pipettes reached their present form. This could be interpreted as meaning manual pipettes that are presently sold in the market are completely perfected pieces of research equipment.

Modern day pipettes firstly move their pistons by the push of a button. They then work using the method of aspirating liquids due to the difference in air pressure created by the movement of the pistons. That is why they are called the air displacement type. These principles are highly praised as a means for measuring and moving liquids both safely and without contamination.

Presently in Japan, manual pipettes for aspirating and dispensing liquids account for 90% of the market, with the remaining 10% coming from electronic pipette sales. Among electronic pipettes, 90% of these are the multiple-channel type, which can have either 8 or 12 tips attached simultaneously. From this market background it can be inferred that the market share for single-channel electronic pipettes is a tiny 1% of total pipette sales volume.

Due to this sales history, we received many opinions from people in the industry along the lines of “Even if you introduce a brand new type of single-channel electronic pipette to the market, this by no means guarantees you’ll be able to sell it!” Wherever we went we heard this same point of view. On the other hand, on occasion we also received comments such as “Even though I understand the convenience of electronic pipettes, sales are not presently increasing in the market and people are still waiting for an electronic device which meets all their needs.”

While at first I was somewhat perplexed by these statements, after hearing them many times over I eventually gained a certain conviction in regards to electronic pipettes. This was that there are quite clear reasons why the market has not welcomed previous electronic pipettes and if these reasons can be removed from the equation, the majority of manual pipettes will be able to be replaced with electronic ones.

If the operation method for the presently predominant manual pipette is considered, the operation button is moved in the axial direction of the movement of the plunger while the pipette is held in the hand, so consequently it is the role of the thumb to operate the up and down movement of the button. When using a manual pipette, in order push down the operation button located at the head of the pipette with the thumb, the thumb must be held out perpendicular to the hand in a vertical direction, then bent horizontally at the joint. In order to properly operate the plunger, a force equivalent to 3 or 4 kg is required at the tip of the thumb.

There is a serious problem when the thumb is made to move like this: it has been designed to only be able to comfortably bend in the direction of the index finger. On the basis of this notion it is easy to come to the conclusion that the operating method of manual pipettes is a big concern from an ergonomic point of view. In fact, you could argue that even a short period of operation is inviting repetitive strain injuries in the thumbs.

With the aim of improving this area of concern with the operation method of the manual pipette, the new MPA Series was developed so that the pipette could be held with all fingers in a natural grasp, with the movement of the plunger able to be controlled with the ball of the index finger while maintaining that natural position.

Testing this new development, it has been verified that no strain occurs at all when aspirating and dispensing water over 3,000 times continuously over a 5 hour period. As a matter of fact, this test was conducted in order to confirm the longevity of the dedicated lithium ion battery, but when I heard that somebody had been made to perform this experiment for 5 hours alone I strongly admonished the person who commissioned the experiment. That is because I became concerned for the person having to actually perform this action continuously for 5 hours, imagining the effort that would be required with a manual pipette. However, when I asked the test participant the following day and heard there was absolutely no problem, I realized my anxiety was completely unwarranted.

When exchanging tips with the MPA, the release button is pushed with the thumb, but the thumb stays in a horizontal direction pushing downwards. The kilogram force required to operate this release button is relatively small, around 600 g, so absolutely no problems were found with this operation either. Incidentally, the kilogram force required to operate the aspirating and dispensing of the pipette with the ball of the index finger is approximately 300 g.

If strain is considered to come not just from the force required for operation, but from the impulse – the force multiplied by the distance displaced (or duration of operation), the strain relating to operation of the piston for the MPA would be equivalent to less than 1/100 of current manual pipettes.

Electronic pipettes are said to be comparatively heavier than manual ones. In fact, the mechanical hardware that makes up the bulk of the weight of pipettes, such as the piston section and the screws that hold it in place, etc. are basically indistinguishable in weight between manual and electronic versions. But by adding the electronic components such as the motor, battery and electric substrate the weight does actually become about 1.5-2 times that of manual pipettes. However, you could say that most of the weight that people perceive is more governed by the center of gravity than the actual weight of the device. In other words, the most important point that should be considered for ease of holding the pipette is how far out the center of gravity of the device is from the axis of grip created when holding it.

With the MPA series the center of gravity of their weight (approximately 160 g) does not deviate from the axis of grip. Also, the display section was made more compact so that the center of gravity is lowered as much as possible. Thanks to these innovations, anybody holding the MPA for the first time will be pleasantly surprised by its lightness.

In addition to this sensation of lightness, importance has been placed upon the simple, yet specialized, function settings of basic, automatic aspirating and dispensing; multiple dispensing, which is the strong point of electronic pipettes; and a liquid mixing function. Further, it is now possible to select volume display in µL units and weight display in mg units, and the user can now easily perform calibration themselves in each mode. In particular, in mg display mode, by unifying measurement units when mixing liquids and powders, creating reagents or analysis samples, previously troublesome and easy to mess up concentration settings have now become much easier to perform.

The MPA Series is a single channel, adjustable volume electronic pipette. It includes four models of 10/20/200/1200, with the figures indicating the maximum possible volumes for aspirating and dispensing (µL). We hope the MPA Series of electronic pipettes will make a great contribution to a wide variety of fields, from medicine to foodstuffs, new materials or environmental measurement, being put to use creating samples for research, clinical trials or material analysis. We believe the MPA Series can lead to great improvements in productivity, increases in quality and advances in workplace health and safety, by greatly reducing occurrences of problems such as repetitive strain injuries.