In revamping a line of meters, Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. of Waltham, Mass., consolidated ABS and thermoplastic elastomer parts, cut material costs and enhanced the user interface.
Thermo Fisher collaborated with Mack Molding Co.'s northern operations in Arlington, Vt., on mechanical design, material selection and multishot molding to produce the Orion-brand Star-series meters.
The bench-top and handheld meters can measure pH acidity or alkalinity, ion-selective electron transduction, dissolved oxygen and general conductivity. Various laboratory and field configurations are used for electrochemical measurements in pharmaceutical, environmental and other markets.
Materials that previously cost $18 per completed device are down now to $3, said Ron Geis, Thermo Fisher global operations director, and ``they may be down to $2 with more volume.'' The reduction was accomplished mainly through part reduction and thinner-walled products.
The bench-top model went to one molded part from six and the hand-held version went to one molded part from four. The firms also cut two minutes off the cycle time.
The former line had removable - and often lost - plugs, or grommets, for inlet and outlet ports. The new design has small, molded-in tabs to close the ports. Unlike the plugs, the tabs cannot be lost.
The previous Thermo line was introduced in 1994 with 12 versions and an average list price of $230. Thermo filed U.S. patent applications on the grommet and sealing technologies in 2003.
The new line has ``30 flavors with different prices,'' averaging $225, Geis said.
The bench-top unit has an IP 54 splash-proof and dustproof rating, and the hand-held version has an IP 65 rating with waterproof, secure electrode connectors.
At its headquarters, Mack molds the ABS housings and some other parts on a press with 200 tons of clamping force, the rubber base on a 100-ton machine and the rubber feet on a 40-ton press.
``We make two versions of each product,'' said John Zuk, Mack North tool engineering manager. ``From there, the variation is what they provide for internals.''
Mack experimented with gating, wall thickness and materials. TPE for the bench-top unit needed to flow across thin living-hinge areas, fill in thick structural areas and repeatedly connect them, Zuk said.
The hand-held model was more complicated. ``To provide structure, they wanted a hard core for the battery overmolded with TPE,'' Zuk said. ``Now, the TPE had to be compatible with the base material ABS.''
``Our core knowledge is the electrode,'' Geis said. The business model resembles that of Gillette Co.'s shaving razor, blade and foam linkage.
``For us, the meter is like the shaver,'' he said. ``Our solutions are like the shaving cream.''
The meter housing won a category award in the 2006 new product design competition of the Alliance of Plastics Processors. APP is a unit of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
The Orion Star-series meters compete primarily with the lines of two Colorado-based firms, Denver Instrument Co. of Denver and Hach Co. of Loveland.
Thermo Electron Corp. of Waltham and Fisher Scientific International Inc. of Hampton, N.H., merged Nov. 9 and adopted the company's current name.
Custom molder and contract manufacturer Mack Molding employs more than 1,800, operates seven facilities in the eastern United States and is a subsidiary of Mack Group Inc. of Arlington.