Case Study

Transforming Water Testing

SBT Aqua

When Danish company SBT Aqua needed to prepare its groundbreaking water-analysis technology for production, it turned to Protolabs in the UK. Using all three of the company’s services – 3D printing, CNC machining and injection moulding – the Scandinavian entrepreneurs were able to develop and test their revolutionary design quickly yet thoroughly.

SBT Aqua’s innovative process speeds up the detection of pollution in water; its simple ambition is to help create a world where everyone can drink water, knowing it’s clean and safe.

Three different waterworks in Denmark are currently piloting the new process - which has the working name BactoFlow – which is radically different from the traditional approach to detecting water pollution. Today, the microbiological quality control processes used are slow and expensive. For example, to analyse water quality and test for bacteria, samples are collected manually, then incubated in a laboratory for three days before the results are received. With SBT Aqua’s system, a new type of automated sensor continuously samples the water, measuring bacteria levels and alerting the company employing the technology immediately if contamination is detected.

BactoFlow’s sensor works through a system of impedance flow cytometry – which means it uses an electric field to detect bacteria without pre-treating or incubating the water sample. The electric field probes the electrical properties of particles in the water, and the results are compared to a database to determine if the particles are bacteria. Any increase in bacteria level (especially a sudden one) can indicate contamination instantly. As the sensor is online, the company using the technology benefits by dealing with the problem straight away.

A fresh approach to beating bacteria

Today, too often, water contamination is discovered when people fall ill – rather than water utility companies detecting pollution before the problem occurs. SBT Aqua’s new technology aims to change this, by giving water utilities a live information feed, they can take immediate preventative action. There are also significant market opportunities for this technology in industries such as biotech, pharmaceuticals, and food and drink. It’s no exaggeration to say that BactoFlow is set to transform the way in which companies deal with water contamination.

Combining three services for rapid results

SBT Aqua plans to use injection moulding to mass-produce its sensors. But first it used 3D printing to refine the design, as the ease of creating prototypes using additive manufacturing makes it the fastest method for perfecting parts. The company then utilised CNC machining to develop highly accurate models, which helped predict exactly how the finished product will look when injection moulded.

"The short turn-around time offered by Protolabs, in conjunction with a strong support team helping to deliver the parts, was extremely valuable. "

Being able to use all three Proto Lab services has made a big difference to the progress of BactoFlow’s development. As Gustav Skands, CEO and founder of SBT Aqua, explained, “The short turn-around time offered by Protolabs, in conjunction with a strong support team helping to deliver the parts, was extremely valuable. To put this into context, Protolabs can produce and deliver parts quicker than if we used a local workshop! This efficiency is essential with the production of a first product. The other main advantage was the quality assurance provided by Protolabs. With each part design-checked before production, we had the benefit of the company’s 20 years’ experience to identify any improvements or tweaks the design needed. This is extremely valuable to us; the quality and reliability of BactoFlow are crucial to ensure it fulfills its potential to revolutionise contamination detection in water.”

Ready for a healthier future

Encouraged by the prototyping experience, SBT Aqua will be using Protolabs for injection moulding when BactoFlow goes into full production.  Working with Protolabs has helped SBT Aqua keep costs down: by perfecting the sensor design in advance, the company saved several months of production time and gets BactoFlow to market as quickly as possible.

As the technology behind BactoFlow is such a game-changer, SBT Aqua is planning an initial launch, to early adopters in Denmark, in the second quarter of 2017. The company will prove the product’s potential through success stories during the rest of 2017, and then start selling it across Europe in 2018.