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.