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Engineering ground-breaking science with Menixis

Not many companies can say they’ve been part of creating something completely new and innovative. Most simply stick to improving current designs. DC Ross have been working in partnership with Menixis and Lincoln Agritech to develop an imaging unit used for small particle analysis. With the first commercial opportunity in the farming industry it is expected to revolutionise field based animal testing and has the potential to expand into other areas.

Developed in order to increase accuracy when identifying parasitic worms in sheep, the unit is unique in that it makes a sample taken in the field available digitally to be sent to a specialist laboratory. This enables accurate analysis under controlled conditions where previously samples were easily contaminated and errors common through manual microscope counts. The unit is split into two, an ICD or Image Capture Device and a MAP cassette containing the sample, turning such a delicate and scientific instrument into a portable and affordable field kit was always going to be challenging but the team at Menixis knew where to turn for precision and innovation.

Pictured: The prototype Menixis machine.

“We’d worked with DC Ross on previous experimental ventures back in 2005” says Stephen Sowerby Menixis’ Director, “they were a logical choice with a pragmatic way of approaching a problem other companies would shy away from”. This pragmatism was essential given the nature of the consortium, with DC Ross responsible for packaging up the analysis hardware produced by Lincoln Agritech into one tidy, portable unit that could be applied out in the field.

DC Ross designer Warwick Sims explains, “This unit was precise and if it hadn’t been made right it would’ve meant going right back to the beginning. The key was setting the dimensions with Lincoln early so there was no debate over size further down the line, once the parameters were set you can work in the box you’re given”.

With the project being owned by Menixis and co-funded by the Callaghan Institute early results were important if the project was going to realise its full potential. Stephen continues, “Building prototypes for something so complex can be costly, with DC Ross we spent much more time in virtual space which kept costs manageable but also showed DC Ross’ confidence in the design team”. This obviously paid off according to Warwick, “the first one off the line worked successfully which was a fantastic feeling given the hours and people involved”.

Greg Mirams, Director of Menixis explains why the partnership worked so well “The project was so successful because of its reliance on each party bringing their area of specialisation to the table. DC Ross understood the scope from day one, Warwick and Stephen managed to devise a language that bridged the gap between scientific and mechanical lingo and Lincoln worked within the parameters set to achieve a tightly knit consortium of specialists”.

Development isn’t over yet. With 30 of the machines en route to Europe as part of Techion Group’s FECPAK G2 system a little piece of New Zealand innovation is winging its way to farms, laboratories and vets for the final stage of field testing. It’ll then be back to DC Ross and Lincoln to make final refinements based on customer feedback, before heading to the global market. In Peter Deans’ words, “It’s fantastic for the guys here to know their work is truly at the cutting edge of global agriculture, from a humble Dunedin industrial estate we’ve once again demonstrated how our reputation for precision and innovation coupled with our ability to work outside our comfort zone allows us to explore possibilities and push boundaries”.

Pictured (left to right): Stephen Sowerby of Menixis, Michael Hagedorn of Lincoln Agritech, Warwick Sims of DC Ross and Greg Mirams of Menixis.

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