Machine Design

Finding the right partner

A leanmanufacturing partner can help decrease costs, time to market, and risks, and boost innovation.

Rob Howard
Div. Sales & Marketing Manager
Life Sciences Business Unit
Parker Hannifin Corp.
Cleveland, Ohio

Lab equipment used in drug discovery frequently relies on liquid-handling systems that can be developed faster and more cost effectively through collaboration with the right strategic partner.

A workstation uses a miniature liquid-handling system to handle high-density microplates containing samples to be tested. The samples have little volume, which speeds throughput.

Market leaders and upandcomers are increasingly moving away from simple outsourcing — often synonymous with contract manufacturing and shifting work offshore for lower labor cost — and toward lean manufacturing. This calls for defining customer and market values at the beginning of product development and eliminating nonvalue-added steps throughout the entire process, not just in manufacturing, to meet those definitions.

Lean manufacturing relies on strategic technology partnerships to design and manufacture new subsystems and modules that lie outside OEM's core expertise. This typically reduces design cycles, time to market, and design costs by 15 to 20%. It also simplifies logistics by cutting the number of components that must be handled from as many as 40 to as few as one. These efficiencies stem from the partner allocating engineering and design resources in parallel with the OEM's efforts.

Strategic partnership are particularly beneficial in creating life-science devices such as glucose monitors and blood analyzers. Here, the value is the science, such as separation, analysis, or data generation. Engineering the science creates intellectual property. Exactly how samples are handled might affect speed and efficiency, which is important, but not part of the machine that performs the scientific function and usually outside the OEM's expertise.

Life-science companies benefit from working with experts in areas such as fluid and motion control, miniaturization, filtration, gas generation, high-purity fittings and valves, EMI shielding and housings, and structural framing. But how do you choose the right partner?


A partner company should be a technical leader that understands the OEM's industry. Life-science applications, for example, commonly need purity, high throughput, reliability, and repeatability. Many of these applications also have requirements for small — even miniature and subminiature — lowcost components. Ideally, partners have the technical R&D and scientific talent, along with the resources and experience in a specific industry. They should also understand the science and market factors behind an application and the particular needs of the system being developed. This lets them design and manufacture market-driven, application-specific solutions, as opposed to simply supplying off-the-shelf components and subsystems, then shoe-horning them into a design.

Partners that are broad-based suppliers of technology and components, offering both engineering and manufacturing, bring several advantages to the help assure optimal pricing and increased productivity. And the breadth of services, the more they can speed and value. Simply put, a product single engineering team with access necessary manufacturing resources usually those generated by disjointed, unconnected companies. That's because all components a defined need and the team can corrective action at any point in the development path.

Make sure the partner can start work at the beginning of the project. Involving them as early as possible maximizes the value gained through collaboration to reduce costs, time to market, and risks. In contrast, simply outsourcing design to consulting engineering-create more problems than it solves. For example, many only do design; they must turn to subcontractors for prototypes, thus stretching out the design cycle. Consultants also might need to find another firm to prove the device works. And after that, they're looking for an appropriate contract manufacturer to handle production. Each step adds time, increases the chance of miscommunication, and adds cost. Most importantly, divorcing engineering from manufacturing generates a whole new laundry list of risks.


Design for manufacturing embraces many facets, and one of the most basic is the cost and availability of raw materials. This is where a major engineering and manufacturing partner can help. Odds are, that firm will know the most cost-effective, readily available materials suited for the design. They could also be in position to save money by including several companies' needs in a larger, bulk contract. In some cases, it may be more economical and just as effective to slightly change a partner's existing products rather than design a system entirely from scratch.

Rapid prototyping is another manufacturing consideration. Look for a partner with the resources to create prototypes in one to two weeks rather than the typical six to eight-week turnaround of some subcontractors. Additionally, in-house prototyping helps uncover the feasibility of maintaining tolerances at commercial manufacturing speeds and quantities.

Manufacturing systems and assemblies for lifescience devices usually must meet regulations and requirements governing production, such as FDA, UL and CSA approvals. Manufacturing to ISO 9001 and 9002 quality standards is also important. If products fall in this category, find partners with similar experience. Partner should also design and deliver equipment that meets the OEM's productivity-or MRP metrics and need for Kan Ban, kitting, or JIT.

Global reach is another factor to consider in choosing partners. In the life-science industry, most technical and design decisions are made in the U.S., but manufacturing and assembly may be performed elsewhere. Partners should have systems engineering resources available wherever needed. They will also have a worldwide manufacturing partner with a global supply and distribution network that can improve shipping efficiencies and decrease costs of supplying modules to nondomestic manufacturing and assembly plants. In today's competitive environment, expect shipping with delivery anywhere on the planet within 10 business days.


One concrete benefit to partnering is a lower DSI (days' supply of inventory), as low as 10 days. Supply-chain management is more efficient because orders for subassemblies rather than individual components can be entered at a single portal, reducing the number of suppliers and simplifying documentation management. Buying separate components could mean working with several suppliers, reviewing and storing up to 40 sets of documents and drawings, issuing an equal number of purchase orders, and processing checks for each supplier. These are good examples of nonvalueadded activities that lean enterprises eliminate by teaming with a partner that designs and manufactures subassemblies.

Take advantage of a partner's broad-based competencies in design, prototyping, manufacturing, and distribution to shorten design and production cycles. Simplify procedures and cut costs by selecting a firm that's easy to do business with, such as offering access through a single point of contact and reducing paperwork and number of parts. Finally, select a global leader in the technologies you outsource.


Parker Hannifin Corp., Life Sciences Business Unit,
(800) 525-2847 or (603) 595-1500,


The drug industry depends on high throughput screening (HTS), an efficient trial-and-error evaluation for identifying compounds with therapeutic potential. HTS automatically compares samples against a library of target compounds with bioactive properties to find the most-likely candidates for development. Advances in genomics and chemistry let researchers check samples quicker than ever, but they want to go faster. Plus, drug companies want to minimize sample sizes to further lower costs.

Many companies making drug-screening equipment are finding they lack the expertise and the time. To build next-generation products, manufacturers must design and combine motion control, robotics, microfluidics, and software. And not only do they have to master these new technologies, they must get the device designed and built faster to be first on the market. The fastest and easiest route to doing all this is to work with the right partner.

Going solo. If a company decides to do it alone, it has to figure out which components it will need to build or buy for the robotic section. That could include a multiaxis controller, motor drivers, cables, interface brackets, controller for dispensing, and dispensing tips, along with tubing and fluidic connectors. This could easily involve several suppliers and leave the thankless task of tracking long lists of discrete parts and widespread logistics.

With a partner. Choosing the right partner early on taps into their expertise to reaching design goals. For example, switching to linear motion to meet size constraints can lead to an XYZ-positioning subsystem with one-third the cross section of standard systems. Linear-motion technology can also boost stage acceleration from 2 to 5 g and improve resolution from 1 to 0.1m m. Repeatability increases as well, going from ±2 to ±0.8m m. The smaller size reduces dimensions and weight, while still letting the device meet accuracy and performance requirements.

The right partner would align and pin the system within 30 arc-sec, making assembly (and reassembly in the field) much easier. Another advantage is that good partnerships can be based on narrow criteria. For example, in HTS equipment, data certification and performance validation are critical due to the precise results expected from the system. A partner in this area should provide laser-interferometer test results as proof of performance. It should also warranty their work, which reduces risks. It might decrease risk even further by analyzing failure modes through advanced testing and verifying all associated cables, switches, and connections.



Working with a strategic technology partner can reduce business risks such as cost, speed to market, project outlay and logistics by spreading out management responsibilities. Partnering reduces the technical risks of getting the system to work and offers the benefit a fresh new perspective, letting companies get out of the habit of relying on previously used technology. It does, however, introduce a new risk by exposing ideas and intellectual property to theft. This can be mitigated through mutual nondisclosure and protection agreements, and by carefully selecting the right partner.

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