Pronexos collaborates on TEM technology for ThermoFisher Scientific
Pronexos is continually expanding its product offering through its unique combination of specialist manufacturing skills. By working alongside MI Partners, an engineering consultancy firm, and with the assistance of; CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, Pronexos has helped to develop an innovative new component for ThermoFisher Scientific’s upcoming transmission electron microscope.
ThermoFisher Scientific create technology to serve a range of customers in the material and biological science industries. Their transmission electron microscopes (TEM) are powerful tools that can be used to image objects at their atomic level. To do this, the microscope must be able to cool the specimen to very low temperatures, typically around -270 degrees Celsius. This is where Pronexos’ expertise comes in.
Pronexos was responsible for manufacturability of the microscope’s cooling mechanic, otherwise known as a cold rod. “We applied our technology by using a range of our existing skills in new ways,” comments Frank Wissink, Sales and Marketing Manager for Pronexos. “MI Partners approached us on behalf of their customer, ThermoFisher Scientific. They initially asked us to use flow forming to create a long, thin tube that would form part of the cold rod. We then worked with them from an engineering perspective, using our previous experience to suggest a different, more efficient approach to their designs, and they asked us to make it happen. That’s how the cold rod design we are working with now came to be.”
“The biggest challenge for our team was using our technology in tandem,” explains Wissink. “The cold rods are made from a combination of materials, including copper and stainless steel. It took us time to determine how to vacuum braze and electron beam-weld these together, all in a clean room environment. In addition, we had to make the walls of the cold rod very thin, so the work was particularly delicate. We followed our strategy by performing individual tests ending up with a integrated assembly of vacuum brazing, electron beam-welding and high accurate parts and with support of our partners were able to establish an effective method that created a robust component for the microscope.”
Collaborating for success
“This project was a result of many experts putting their heads together,” notes Wissink. “We had input from several experts along the way. For instance, MI Partners got us involved, but down the line Thermo Fisher Scientific started working more directly with us also. With so much at stake for our end customer, it made sense for them to have a central part in this development. They are the leading manufacturer of TEM technology, so it was highly beneficial that they shared their knowledge too.”
“We also had the pleasure of collaborating with CERN on these cold rods,” says Wissink. “They are an existing partner of Thermo Fisher’s, and were brought into discussions to lend us their expertise in vacuum brazing. As one of the most respected centres for scientific research in the world, their knowhow was most valuable to the project. It was also a great opportunity for us to learn from leading experts in the field. CERN is a great connection for Pronexos to have as we continue to take on increasingly complex projects.”
The project is a true testament to the power of collaboration in the Research & Development community. “It’s true that many heads are better than one,” chuckles Wissink. “By working together, we have collectively developed a new, cutting-edge technology. We are proud to say this work will benefit scientists and researchers around the world. Our team are already looking forward to working with each of these partners again in future.”
Next steps for TEM technology
The cold rod is now in final stages of development and is expected to be delivered within the third quarter of 2023. “Once our work is complete, the technology will be with ThermoFisher Scientific to integrate the cooler into the microscope,” explains Wissink. “They will then go through a similar process to what we have – conducting testing to ensure that the cooler meets performance requirements – but on the whole machine. Following these final tests, it will be ready for commercial release to both medical and scientific customers, likely in 2024. We are confident that our work will help ThermoFisher Scientific offer its customers even more powerful and versatile imaging capabilities.”