Medical diagnostics

Feb. 1, 2009
Animal health care is advanced using fiber laser marking systems

Animal health care is advanced using fiber laser marking systems

by Robin Barbero

After researching and testing various methods such as dot peen marking, ink jet, and silk screening to reproduce a Data Matrix code on a polypropylene medical diagnostic device, IDEXX Laboratories selected fiber lasers as the superior technology. Now many animals worldwide, some who have previously suffered from serious illnesses, can be correctly diagnosed and treated with a laser marked medical device.

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IDEXX Laboratories ( of Westbrook, Maine, a provider of innovative products and services for veterinary, food, and water diagnostic applications, is saving lives worldwide with the use of the laser marked SNAP device to diagnose serious life-threatening diseases. The company's companion animal and equine businesses combine bio-technology with medical devices and information and software to support veterinarians' efforts in providing quality care of animals worldwide. Its food and water businesses employ efficient technologies for livestock and poultry monitoring and ensuring the safety of public water and milk.

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IDEXX also offers a range of bench-top laboratory instruments that analyze patient samples for blood chemistry. Its VetLab software integrates instruments, patient records, and practice management software for a seamless information flow.

The innovative, diagnostic SNAP device is used for the detection of Lyme disease, Heartworm, Giardia, and Parvo, as well as other life-threatening diseases in cats, dogs, and farm animals that can begin with parasites, distributed worldwide, that can infect most mammals and cause significant threats to animals.

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The device now provides many advantages over traditional diagnostics, including simplicity, low cost, and much higher percentages of specificity providing optimal health for animals. IDEXX's patented in-clinic testing device is based on state-of-the-art ELISA technology. Each SNAP device is coated with either an antigen or antibodies to detect the presence of animal diseases: canine heartworm, E. canis, Lyme disease and parvovirus; and feline FIV and FeLV. It is also used in the dairy division for detecting beta-lactams in milk and with the SNAP Reader for T4 and cortisol testing. The device offers the industry's fastest, most accurate, and easy-to-use method for rapid testing (all devices provide results in less than 10 minutes).

The SNAP device was typically visually interpreted by the veterinary technician. IDEXX sought to make this product compatible with a diagnostic reader and required a means by which the reader could identify the device prior to analytical processing. After researching various options for this process, laser marking technology emerged as the superior option over other traditional methods, and the Data Matrix was selected to provide high contrast on the polypropylene device. The polypropylene SNAP device is snapped to activate the fluid path, which provides results indicated by color development.

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After extensive testing to optimize results of laser parameters, cycle times, and readability, Cognex Machine Vision ( systems and Lasit USA ( laser systems were selected as components of the integrated laser marking systems. Seven systems are now integrated into a production line in which a fiber laser is used to produce high-contrast Data Matrix symbols with additional laser marked alpha-numeric characters indicating the product name on each device. The instrument reads the Data Matrix symbol to identify the product and interprets the developed spots accordingly to provide diagnosis.

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The Data Matrix is now used in applications for many industries such as the Department of Defense, automotive, aerospace, tooling, and electronics. Industries that need to address full life cycle traceability and automatically identify parts throughout the supply chain operations can benefit from this technology.

Unlike other types of marks, the data matrix can be read even when more than 30% of it is destroyed. Today there is a trend to extend tracking through the full life of a part so that it can be identified from the beginning to the end of the cycle. Traceability also improves quality by ensuring that processes are performed in the correct sequence on respective parts. In addition to eliminating human errors, PMI (Direct Part Mark Identification) can be used in data logging for safety, liability, warranty issues, regulatory requirements, and for permanent identification on parts that are subject to theft or counterfeiting.

When asked why laser marking was selected over other technologies, Senior Engineer Pete Boillard of IDEXX Laboratories states, “After researching all our options, the Data Matrix symbology was selected and fiber based laser marking emerged as the superior option. The benefit of the fiber laser was that we could reproduce a high resolution data matrix that could fit in a very small available space on the device (no bigger than 2.66 mm) and could be read with a Cognex system. Additionally the laser eliminated any smudging and provided very high contrast with excellent readability. Other technologies such as ink jet, dot peen, and silk screening as well as CO2 lasers were initially researched but results were not favorable and low resolution, smudging, or low contrast eliminated those technologies.”

The fiber laser offers many advantages on the IDEXX production line. In addition to its high reliability and long life of over 100,000 hours for 24/7 use, its compact footprint provides for the integration of seven systems into a small area. Furthermore, the 110 volt electrical requirements provide a green solution over traditional Nd:YAG technologies, saving thousands of dollars in electricity costs.

When asked about the real value of the laser technology, Jim Ross, procurement manager at IDEXX Laboratories, stated that: “The Lasit USA system creates a significant added value to our customer by ensuring high contrast, consistent results eliminating human error, and capturing the results in the record. In addition the laser mark frees the technician's time, improving the bottom line for IDEXX customers, and provides a complete integrated system for the veterinarian.”

With the SNAP device now machine recognizable, a lab technician just prepares this device with the specimen and loads it into the instrument. The device is incubated and when ready, it is interpreted. The results are loaded into the patient history for use by the veterinarian. This little barcode takes the SNAP device and brings it into the digital world.

The IDEXX SNAP device is now able to reliably identify three times as many infected animals, many of which are commonly misdiagnosed. In the past correct diagnosis of many of these diseases has been a challenge for many veterinary clinics because staff members are often not optimally trained to identify these elusive infections. Because of the varying expertise of different laboratories many infections have gone under-diagnosed.

Lasit USA Managing Director Marco Ievoli states; “Although we manufacture and tested several other lasers such as our CO2, green, and YVO4, we found the best solution for the IDEXX line was the fiber laser. The small spot size, the reliability, and the small footprint provided the ideal solution.”

While we all enjoy knowing our pets are safe and healthy, it is companies such as IDEXX that provide us with the medical technologies to extend animal life.

Robin Barbero ([email protected]) is executive vice-president with Lasit USA, Branford, CT.

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