A transparent cylinder surrounded by mysterious tubes and supported by a futuristic neon-yellow plastic stand — anyone catching a first glimpse of the Mobius® CellReady Bioreactor could easily think it was part of the equipment on board the starship Enterprise. It’s easy to imagine Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock using this equipment to track down extraterrestrial life forms in the far reaches of the galaxy. But despite its otherworldly appearance, the bioreactor is completely of earthly origin — and a sophisticated example of state-of-the-art design for the laboratory.
Until now, research facilities have presented a remarkably uniform image. Filter units and mini-reactors in sober shades of gray and box-shaped design did nothing to catch the eye. Function was the be-all and end-all of such equipment. “Our customers buy products that will carry out primary functions as well as specific downstream process steps, such as the purification of a drug. Naturally the most important thing for our customers is the unit’s function,” explains Christine Valle, Global Product Manager at Merck Millipore. “Good design optimizes the user-friendliness and functionality of the system. And I believe that design, color, and graphics can evoke an emotional reaction on the part of the customer.”
That already partly answers the question as to what makes good design. “Take Apple, for example. They produce sleek and appealing designs for their products. Nonetheless, if the iPhone didn’t have top quality and functionality, nobody would buy it,” says Valle, emphasizing her point. The fact that a device feels good is not necessarily the most important feature of a piece of laboratory equipment. It’s much more a question of the ease of care, safety, and hygiene of these highly complex products. The Mobius® CellReady 3L bioreactor, for example, is used for the cultivation of bacterial, plant, animal, and human cells. Because the time-consuming cleaning, sterilization, and assembly steps are no longer required, the typical downtimes for glass bioreactors are reduced dramatically. This means the process development engineers can make optimal use of their time in the laboratory and achieve their objectives sooner. “And that is a high priority for us,” says Valle.
Nonetheless, the form and color of the equipment do play a central role. The electronics giant Apple has long been the leader of a technological trend that many other companies have failed to consider important — yet one which Merck Millipore feels bound to follow: bringing more color and attractive forms into the everyday world. “The color and design of our products are intended to provide instant brand recognition,” explains the product manager.
Sustainable design is vital
Merck Millipore also follows another principle — that of “Design for Sustainability” as an example of holistically sustainable product development. It starts with production and packaging, continues with resource conservation in the products’ everyday use by the customer, and goes all the way to disposal or recycling possibilities. The Mobius® range of filter units and bioreactors for biopharmaceutical production are an example of this approach.