Electrolab Ltd is a small independent company, founded in 1988, employing
seven people and with annual sales revenue of approximately 800 KEURO.
The company designs, manufactures and markets fermentation control equipment
for biotechnology applications. These products are marketed for application
in commercial laboratories and research organisations, mainly in the
UK and Europe.
The company's existing Electrolab P350 product utilises discrete device
printed circuit board technology and purchased proprietary control modules
to allow the equipment to control the rate of growth of micro-organism
cultures in the monitored vessels. The cost of the controller modules
used in the company's fermentation controller equipment is high, and
the proprietary nature of the controller limits the flexibility of the
product in terms of providing additional features and functions in the
The objectives of this application experiment were to introduce microcontroller
device technology into the unit so as to introduce additional product
features and to reduce the manufacturing costs of the fermentation controller
equipment. These improvements provided a significant improvement in
market competitiveness for the company's products, and widen the range
of applications for the product to include industrial cell culture applications.
The microcontroller enhancement allowed the implementation of the following
¨ to increase the number of parameters that can be sampled and
¨ to improve the flexibility of the product by providing air flow
¨ to allow the control of fermentation processes requiring other
gas supplies, such as CO2.
¨ to dramatically reduce the cost of the improved Electrolab P350
and enable the control of two fermenters at once.
¨ to improve operator interfaces and reduce calibration times by
the use of automated initialisation routines.
¨ to improve reliability and improve recorder facilities directly
on to a PC.
These improvements by the use of an integrated microcontroller will
result in a significant increase in profits, company growth and future
product developments. Sales levels are expected to increase by more
than 100% over 3 years without sacrificing margins. The improved equipment
will also allow the company to expand its export sales for the equipment.
The duration of the application experiment was 7 months, and the development
of the prototype equipment cost a total of 56 kEURO. The anticipated
payback period for this investment is approximately 2 years. The return
on investment (ROI) is estimated to be 250% over the product's five
Beyond the direct economic benefits, the adoption of microcontroller
technology will improve the company's image and enables the prospect
of further generations of microcontroller based equipment in future