ST. LOUIS — It took about four years for Abbott Diagnostics to make its practical, structural foam molded fluid analyzer unit a reality.
The results validated the benefits of designer-molder teamwork and made the Irving, Texas, company a double award winner at the SPI Structural Plastics Division annual design competition in St. Louis.
The medical diagnostics equipment manufacturer's i2000 fluid analyzer garnered the top prize in the medical and scientific category for its structure and skins, and the machine's base plate earned the single part award.
The i2000 is intended to be the first of a line of modular clinical units that can be linked together, said Robert Luoma, main design engineer for Abbott Diagnostics.
The structure and skins for the fluid analyzer, molded by Rogers, Ark.-based FM Corp., include roughly 30 structural foam parts selectively reinforced with structural metal and sheet metal to provide a foundation and attractive appearance to the machine.
The assembly relied heavily on the structural foam parts for design flexibility geared to integrate features and reduce product costs and part count.
The i2000's base plate consolidates the function of the more than 100 parts, and, using multiple ultrasonic inserts, it also provides support for 20 subassemblies, incorporates an insulated chamber for refrigerated chemical storage and spill containment for hazardous chemicals.
``Spill containment was an obvious concern,'' Luoma said. The device was equipped with ``disklike features in case of spills.''
The quest to bring the i2000 to market got under way in 1994, and should come to fruition this year when the product is expected to be introduced to its target market: high-volume reference laboratories, said Luoma, who is one of several designers of the unit.
Last February, Abbott started the design of the structure, which was based strongly on the prototype.
``At that point, the project really kicked into high gear,'' Luoma said.
FM Corp., a structural foam molder known for its medical and electronics parts, joined the project nearly 21/2 years ago, said Dave Fleetwood, vice president of manufacturing.
``At least two of our people were on call to help answer questions about designing and tooling,'' he said.
The project kept designers and molders in a partnership.
``All along we had a close relationship with our molder and toolmaker,'' Luoma said.
The unit is made from a polyphenylene oxide/polyphenylene ether resin blend for strength and stability, ease of processing, availability, and chemical resistance.
MSI Mold Builders Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, created molds for the parts.
David Shallenberg, manager of manufacturing service for FM, said the project caused FM to expand some of its assembly operations by adding new assembly technicians.
``Where we bring value to our customer is assembly ability,'' said Michael Watts, FM's chief operating officer. ``We can provide the total package.''
The team approach that led to the success in creating the i2000 has ``stirred thoughts of similar applications of the process in the future,'' according to Shallenberg.
Some of the details ``stretched the capabilities of structural foam,'' Luoma said.
Abbott Diagnostics is a division of Abbott Park, Ill.-based Abbott Laboratories.