Whether for in home use or in thousands of industrial processes, water touches almost everything we do largely because, as Mark Peterman, CEO of OndaVia, Inc. pointed out, it is the universal solvent. This characteristic is both a blessing and a curse. The same polarity that lets water molecules carry electrolytes through our bodies and dissolve useful chemicals for industry also makes it an ideal medium for less desirable materials. OndaVia is in the business of finding those hidden contaminants before they end up where they don’t belong. The company provides a range of fast, accurate on-site tests for contaminants. Those tests yield results in minutes, rather than hours or days.
“Lots of operations—oil and gas, food and beverage, chemical, environmental, municipal and industrial wastewater, and pulp and paper—need to know what’s in their water,” said Peterman. “Some need to know what’s going into their processes; others need to know what’s coming out, and the quicker they can identify a problem the sooner they can correct it.”
OndaVia’s bench-top system is about the size of a shoebox and uses Raman spectroscopy to analyze water samples. “The system analyzes light reflected off a drop of water,” said Peterman. “It’s actually measuring the vibration of atoms to determine what is in the water. A sample is placed into a single-use cartridge containing a chip that amplifies the signal produced by the reflected light. The amplified signal is sent over a USB connection to a laptop where proprietary software does the analysis. We currently offer cartridges that test for perchlorate, selenates, boron, and ethanolamine and are developing cartridges to test for a variety of other chemical contaminants.”
“Initially we were working directly with the silicon chip, putting samples under the microscope at a lab bench and holding things together with double sided tape,” said Peterman. “It was only after we had gotten confirmation of the technology that we moved on to development of the instrument, the chip, the cartridge, and the software. That’s when we started working with Proto Labs. I don’t remember exactly how we heard of them; it could have been word of mouth or advertising, but both of Proto Labs’ services, Firstcut® and Protomold®, have been involved with development of the system.
In 2011 OndaVia had Proto Labs’ automated machining service, Firstcut, produce both cartridges and components of the instrument itself. “We were working with very small volumes of each part,” said Peterman. “We were making 10 cartridges at a time, having them machined directly from our 3D CAD models. We ended up making just a few changes to the cartridge design, but the instrument itself involved more development. We had at least five different iterations of instrument parts made before we finalized the design. As development progressed we were adjusting some of the moving parts, changing materials and thicknesses, and studying how parts of the instrument would be mounted and work together.
“As we neared a final design for the cartridges we went from having them machined to having them injection molded by Protomold. We were close to finalizing the design and were getting ready to start filling customer orders, so it made sense to go to lower cost molding. Our first molds were made in late 2011. Working with those cartridges, we found ways to make testing more convenient for users and had final prototypes molded in 2012. Those gave us the functionality we were looking for and became our final production design. The quick turnaround we got from Protomold was critical since we had just begun a major customer demonstration installation, which turned into a significant order. We learned a lot over the course of the summer and made changes in our software and our algorithms, but we came out ready to go to market and had Protomold produce 5000 molded cartridges.
“Working with Proto Labs was easy. We like the fact that they can produce low-volume machined parts for prototyping and higher volume molded parts to take to market. We took a calculated risk in going from machined to molded parts for the final iteration of the cartridges. We were pretty sure we had a final design, but we needed the larger quantity right away so we made those molded parts our final prototypes. As we thought, we had nailed the design, so it turned out to be the right decision.
“We chose a polycarbonate material for its chemical inertness and heat resistance. We’ll keep using the same molds but may look at other materials in the future. We’ve already changed the color of the cartridges from clear to blue. It was a marketing decision reflecting our logo colors which suggest water. At various points in the process we talked to other molding companies; no one could match Proto Labs for price or speed. We plan to keep working with them for the foreseeable future, both for production and, as we grow, for future prototyping.”
Proto Labs Inc.