Using flow cytometry systems,
researchers worldwide study
stem cells and treatment of cancer,
autoimmune diseases, and other conditions.
Sony has entered into new territory
by designing and developing
this medical research equipment.
Flow cytometry systems are specialized equipment used in cell analysis and research. For Sony, entering into the their development and design was truly exploring new territory. Gaining insight for design all began with on-site observation and interviews, so that design would stem from in-depth observation of the functionality researchers need.
We observed some issues with current systems, which were large enough to dominate labs and complex enough (structurally and operationally) to inconvenience researchers. Researchers often had to rely on dedicated operators to obtain data, and this hampered research in various ways. We hoped that by applying Sony technology and expertise, we could resolve these issues and make the systems more accessible to researchers themselves. Ultimately, we knew that this would support future progress in medicine.
Inevitably, there are compelling reasons for the colors and materials of medical equipment. Superficial design—coordinated logos or equipment styling, for example—cannot support medical advances. What matters most is usability for researchers. In initial design discussions, we approached relevant topics from various angles. We explored potentially fitting design for advanced medical labs based on observations from expert perspectives, and based on ergonomics for greater comfort. To ensure that engineering, product planning, and designers were on the same page, we established shared product design themes.
Spectral Cell Analyzer SP6800 is used in cell analysis, and Cell Sorter SH800 is used from analysis to sorting. In designing both units, our first task was to simplify the complexity that seems inherent in such specialized equipment. In fact, our goal stood in stark contrast to this complexity: simplicity, in forms that follow function. Seeking a compact, tabletop form factor that would also fit in small labs, we succeeded in making the sorter 1/3 the size of conventional units. Both units are constructed of 3-mm thick aluminum to withstand strong disinfectants in labs studying bacteria and viruses. To prevent bacteria from building up, the aluminum panels fit together much like joinery, and uneven surfaces such as screws were avoided as much as possible. Composed of flat, seamless surfaces and rounded, user-friendly edges, the units look uncomplicated—straightforward and powerful.
This simplicity extends to how the units are used. Through 3D simulations, usability was carefully verified to ensure the units are easy and intuitive to operate. The spectral analyzer features a practical front panel that is centered, easy-to see, and positioned at a convenient angle, for easy sample insertion or removal from either side. On both units, it’s easy to focus on information of interest—whether on an LCD display or indicators—because information is presented against black panels to make the equipment status immediately recognizable. Operation has been simplified through automation and by minimizing the number of buttons. Ongoing discussions with researchers from the stage of prototyping enhanced the practicality of equipment design.
The sample holder on the spectral analyzer will be used by researchers countless times, so each is machined from a bar of aluminum for strength. The edge of the 3 mm aluminum plate is diamond-cut—a fabrication method also used in audio products—which also imparts a measure of safety in use. A glossy finish around this area makes it easier to wipe, which helps maintain lab cleanliness in consideration of sample agitation during analysis. Safety and accuracy were also priorities in details such as internal optical filter arrangement and flow channel design of sorting chips, which were developed in collaboration with Sony engineers.
Note: For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.