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Infectious Disease | COVID-19

Achieving production goals in record time

25 May 2020

All local recommended safety guidelines followed at the time of interview.

How does a company reach unimaginable production goals with extremely short notice? Lanco Integrated achieved the impossible in a time of crisis, working with QIAGEN to react when faced with high demand for vital coronavirus testing kits.
Based in the town of Westbrook, Maine, Lanco Integrated is known for providing turn-key assembly solutions to global customers, primarily in the medical and automotive fields. At the outbreak of COVID-19, QIAGEN contacted Lanco Integrated with a request to support their production facility in Germantown, Maryland, for mini spin columns systems – a key component in testing kits for the coronavirus. To meet the request, the machine needed to be ready in eight weeks rather than the thirty-five weeks it usually takes to build.

David Raymond and Jake Rollins, two engineers from Lanco Integrated, were designated as the project leads for creating this epic machine. Neither imagined that they could pull it off. “When the request came in for the spin column machine to be ready in eight weeks, I immediately thought this is crazy. We can't build a machine in eight weeks. But then my next thought was, ‘There has to be a way to do it’,” says Rollins. Once they got over the shock of such a daunting timeline, the two engineers stepped up to the plate and set out to make it work. 
“When the request came in for a spin column machine in eight weeks, I immediately thought it was crazy,” says Jake Rollins of Lanco. Find out how the engineers and designers at Lanco overcame major hurdles to build a QIAGEN spin-column system for rapid response testing in combating the coronavirus. 
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Customers need these machines so they can fulfill the needs of our population to be able to successfully test and get assurance on the coronavirus outbreak.
David Raymond, Project Engineer, Lanco Integrated

Record time

To start, the team leaned on existing technology based on a machine concept that Lanco had built for QIAGEN twenty years ago, then transformed it to work in today’s machine-building culture. “It is standard practice and less risky to work off of technology that has been proven, but even so, the new machine is capable of producing 6,000 spin columns per hour, and that involves quite a few parts,” says Raymond.

Most of the Lanco workforce is working remotely to ensure operations continue, and chances of contamination remain minimal. This is a new approach for Lanco that, according to Rollins, actually helped the teams get more done in the end. “We were very new to this remote process,” explains Raymond, ”so we were developing our processes on the fly. For material procurement, for example, we were preordering stuff before we were typically ready to. Knowing that we had to kind of put our money on the table up front and put a bet on what we were going to use for us to be able to receive it on time.” The bet paid off, however, and the design phase for a machine that typically took engineers five to six weeks was completed in an astounding six days. 

Lanco Integrated
David Raymond, project engineer, and Jake Rollins, Project Manager, have an unwavering commitment to “make it work,” and this has been a major contributor to achieving the seemingly impossible. Both are Maine locals who grew up in families passionate about working on racecars and with a curiosity to find out how everything around them worked from a young age. A career in the mechanical field was a natural choice for the hobbyist tinkerers who feel completely in their element at Lanco Integrated.
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The spin-column machine will be producing approximately one hundred and twenty-five thousand parts per day. That’s almost a million parts per week.

Jake Rollins, Project Manager Supervisor, Lanco Integrated

Embracing change

For Raymond and Rollins, the changes in how they work signal a fundamental shift that has put Lanco on a new trajectory. “The outbreak has certainly changed the face of our company as it has allowed us to see how much more efficient we can become,” says Raymond, one of three engineers still onsite. Working 17-hour days was not unheard of for the teams. “There was a collaboration between QIAGEN offices in Germany and Maryland, and daily meetings working around the time differences. In the beginning, we were working seven days a week until midnight or 2 o'clock in the morning to get everything pushed through,” says Rollins. 

Jake explains that the Lanco team was made up of 20-25 people over two shifts working on designing and building this 60-foot machine around the clock. By making the necessary adjustments to accommodate higher production loads, the company has proven this rate of work is possible. “We're finding out really quickly that we can get a lot more done with the tools that we already have available,” says Jake. “We were thrown into the fire on how quickly we can adapt, both in design-build and in every phase of our company. And our team hit a home run,” he says.

Lanco Integrated
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, mini spin columns are necessary for testing kits to purify viral nucleic acids from plasma, serum or cell-free body fluids. The spin columns work by passing the lysed sample through the membrane using centrifugal or vacuum force. Wash and elution buffers are subsequently passed through the membrane, and the purified sample is collected in a tube by centrifugation or vacuum and is ready to be tested. Since the majority of nucleic acid sample preps are usually conducted manually at low throughput with 1-12 samples at a time, finding solutions to ramp up automated sample prep at short notice can quickly deliver high quantities of results to test providers.
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The effort we're putting into the QIAGEN machine has really opened our eyes as a company as to what we can accomplish with a common goal.
Jake Rollins, Project Manager Supervisor, Lanco Integrated

A worthy endeavor

The sheer enormity of the machine’s capabilities is demonstrated in its production quantities of spin columns: “The spincolumn machine will be producing approximately one hundred and twenty-five thousand parts per day. That’s almost a million parts per week,” says Raymond. “We need to produce and conduct as many tests as possible, and the quicker we can get the system out, the quicker we can start testing the global population. There are opportunities for expediting our build process that we never thought possible. The effort that we're putting into the QIAGEN machine has really opened our eyes as a company as to what we can accomplish with a common goal.”

Lanco Integrated
Lanco Integrated, a designer and manufacturer of high-performance turn-key automated assembly and test systems for world markets, has created a new machine that manufactures mini spin column systems used for coronavirus testing. Headquartered in Westbrook, Maine, USA, Lanco has joined forces with QIAGEN to ramp up coronavirus testing kit production to test the broader population.
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