What is the innovation?

Dr Robert McLaughlin

Miniprobes have developed a small, inexpensive optical scanhead that provides microscopic analysis of surfaces during product manufacturing. The handheld imaging device is used to accurately measure the thickness of surface coatings applied to products such as pharmaceuticals, often less than a tenth of a millimetre in thickness.

“Our innovation was to reduce the cost of the scanhead by an order of magnitude, ” explains Managing Director Dr Robert McLaughlin. “That allows us to bring it into entirely new industries.”

What benefits does the innovation bring?

“Until now, these devices have typically cost thousands of dollars and you would never take them onto a dirty, dusty factory floor. Our approach is to make the scanhead into an inexpensive consumable that you can simply replace when it gets dirty,” says Dr McLaughlin.

A spin-out from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) at the University of Adelaide, the technology was originally developed to help surgeons to perform safer brain surgery.

“Medical devices need to be disposable to ensure sterility between patients, and so we had to develop technologies to make that economically viable,” explained Dr McLaughlin.

“However, with help from Adelaide Enterprise and The South Australia Government’s TechInSA, we realised that there are untapped industrial applications for a technology like this.”

What commercial success and/or benefit to society has it achieved?

Miniprobes are in conversations with a major international manufacturer over potential applications to their production processes.

“We’re exploring two major international markets,” explained Dr McLaughlin.

“Our scanheads can examine metal parts in microscopic detail, and that’s important for industrial manufacturers working to fine tolerances, such as in the car and aerospace industries.”

Another important application is in controlling the absorption rate of drugs, which is achieved by coating the drug with a thin chemical layer. Our device enables precise measurement of these layers by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

“It’s exciting to have several opportunities arising like this. As a small company, the challenge is to stay focused and bring each one through to fruition,” says Dr McLaughlin.

What lessons learnt can you share?

Small companies need to pivot, rapidly changing their focus to where the market is. That is our unfair competitive advantage over our larger competitors.

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