Smart, sustainable manufacturing: new sensors for process monitoring

By Pierre-Damien Berger, vice president of business development and communication

Industries ranging from chemicals to agri-food to bio-tech and pharmaceuticals are looking at new sensor technologies to streamline processes and improve quality control. By customizing sensors for specific applications, CEA-Leti designers are developing inline process-measurement systems that can dramatically improve both quality control and productivity, and meet regulatory requirements, particularly in the pharma industry.

Speaking at the annual LetiDays event last week in Grenoble, France, Claude Vauchier, Leti lab-on-chip program manager, said such process-control systems allow quality control of raw materials and final products, identify critical process parameters for product quality, offer a process-measurement system for in-line or on-line monitoring and include a control system that can adjust critical quality attributes.

Based on components from Leti’s toolbox, the systems can use enzymatic sensors, electro-chemical sensors for ionic species detection, conductivity sensors or various optical sensors.

Vauchier described a promising new market for process monitoring based on lensfree imaging, a unique opportunity for companies to implement a technological breakthrough in optical imaging.

Developed by Leti in 2009, the technique provides multi-scale observation capability across two orders of magnitude, allowing researchers to differentiate between tissues and cells, and bacteria and viruses. The lensfree optical imaging system is much smaller than standard microscopes, and less expensive because it is made of low-cost components.

The sensors in the system do not come in contact with the media, but nonetheless can control it, including measuring concentration, distribution or morphology of different biological objects. That is a unique and cost-saving feature of the technology, Vauchier said.

The technique generates holographic images of micro-particles, cells, viruses or bacteria by employing a light-emitting diode to illuminate objects, and a standard CMOS digital sensor to capture their image. Raw images are treated with specific algorithms, so results are available instantaneously on a computer. The process has an extremely large field of view (24mm2), allowing simultaneous observation of thousands of organisms.

Vauchier said Leti is collaborating with the startup Iprasense to develop a process-control system for cell cultures in bio-production. Bioproduction is used in the fields of biopharmaceuticals, food manufacturing, cosmetics, and biofuels, as well as in bio-industries that produce enzymes, flavors, organic acids, antibiotics, vitamins or organic polymers.

The company is targeting applications for monitoring, counting and characterizing cells cultivated in incubators and bioreactors as part of the bioproduction process.

Its first product, expected by year-end, will be a smart instrument for cell culture monitoring in a flask, a petri dish, or a microtiter plate, in bioreactors. It will not only capture every moment of the cell culture, but also will instantly analyze the live recording to give researchers real-time information on cell numbers and confluence, or how well the cells have generated an even layer across a cell-culture flask.

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