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Scientist puts bottles in a water bath
Scientist puts bottles in a water bath

Unlocking Scientific Frontiers: The Crucial Role of Temperature Control Innovations in Transforming Industries

Insights from temperature control pioneers unveil successful product design and breakthrough potential

by
PolyScience

At PolyScience, our award-winning line of precise temperature control equipment has been manufactured in the United States for 60 years with the same core values in mind—quality reliability, durability, and...

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Look around you right now and you’re likely to see something that temperature control technology helped create. It is an essential component of processes across an extremely broad range of applications—from manufacturing everyday items like your shampoo or phone to running vital equipment like electron microscopes or CT scanners. 

That ubiquity and criticality set the stage for enormous innovation potential in an industry that enables so many others. Adding creative, big picture thinking to that equation has been instrumental to decades of ground-breaking, award-winning innovations at PolyScience, spanning the sciences, manufacturing, and culinary industries. 

Continually pushing the envelope has secured PolyScience’s role in facilitating new applications and even entire fields, including molecular biology. Reflecting on these experiences, patterns emerge that provide universal insights into successful transformative innovation. 

  1. Define technological limitations, then break them. 
  2. Take the time to optimize and validate extensively.
  3. Pre-emptively address evolving needs and expectations. 

Pushing the envelope

A pile of wrenches and hammers lay in a refrigerated circulator bath at a major pharmaceutical lab. Philip Preston, President of PolyScience, paused at the curious sight during a walkthrough to ask about it. They ran calibrations at 200°C then 0°C, which requires removing a lot of heat from the bath. The technician’s solution involved adding thermal mass to cool the bath temperature to 40°C, at which point refrigeration could safely be turned on. In response, PolyScience developed a new system that monitored pressures for safe operation well beyond the limitations of traditional refrigeration systems. This allowed cooling to be engaged at 200°C with greater efficiency than wrenches and hammers. 

True innovation requires creative vision.

“I strongly believe that the best idea on how to develop the product is to get out and see the customers, see how they’re using your product,” Preston says. Bringing their experiences and ideas back to the engineering team not only inspires further innovation, it ensures customer-centric product designs. It illuminates the types of frustrations scientists just accept as cost of business, like the wet, messy benchtops common around older baths. Relatively simple solutions—docking and gabled lids that direct condensation back into the bath—improved quality of life in labs.

More innovation inspiration has come from examining returns under warranty. These aren’t always immediately obvious. For example, no problems were found with 22 percent of chiller returns. Further investigation identified filter maintenance as a tripping point for users, leading to dirty condensers. The new Durachill Recirculating Chiller incorporated an engineering solution that removed the onus from users. A patented self-changing filter system automatically replaces the filter every month, with enough material in each cassette to cover three years between changes.

Another issue arose from an inability to assess chiller performance, which drove unnecessary service or returns as researchers attempted to troubleshoot their process. As Preston points out, “There’s no meter for this.” A self-test feature presented the simplest solution for users: factory performance metrics are captured and stored, including its heating and cooling rates and stability, against which users can run a comparative check. This rules out the need for service in most cases, simplifying lab troubleshooting efforts and saving time and cost of shipping. 

Pumps damaged by operating with insufficient liquid levels have presented another challenge. Traditional liquid level sensors, like float switches, are notoriously unreliable. PolyScience introduced a capacitive liquid level sensor on the new DuraChill benchtop chiller line that alerts users when fluids are low and will trigger a system shutdown to prevent damage when necessary.

Scientist removes filter from a PolyScience DuraChill
Scientist removes filter from a PolyScience DuraChill
Credit: Polyscience

Customer pain points have led PolyScience to pioneer numerous customer-centric solutions. “Some of the greatest innovations that have come out of PolyScience have really been coming directly from the customer,” reflects Preston. Customer feedback led to years spent developing a quieter system that would run the fan—the biggest noise culprit—at the minimum speed necessary, often slowing after startup to the point it’s no longer noticeable. The new DuraChill line presents multiple examples: a larger, multilanguage touch screen with descriptive warning messages that don’t require a manual to interpret, a small footprint, and remote process temperature sensor that enables users to control a jacketed reactor. 

Collaborative innovation that tackles challenges in new applications or industries has resulted in dramatic breakthroughs. In one notable example, a scientist with Cetus reached out with a design request, having developed a process that so far required manually transferring samples between baths at different temperatures. Preston worked with the engineering team to devise a way to build in cooling capacity and store it during heating cycles to resolve high demands for heat removal. Thus the first PCR machine was born. “I remember the engineer telling me that this could be big: it could lead to 20 units a month. And at its peak we were building 250 units a day,“ recalls Preston.

These collaborative innovations also landed PolyScience in the kitchens of top restaurants. In the early days of the sous vide culinary revolution, adventurous chefs turned to PolyScience for laboratory circulator baths. Preston set to work developing one of the first sous vide machines on the market, beloved by professionals to this day and used by top chefs globally. 

True innovation requires creative vision. Rather than “the new button on the dishwasher,” it’s about introducing new features that solve real problems. Examples of these transformative innovations, eventually becoming standard practice, extend throughout PolyScience’s history. One early example involved removing radio frequency interference with other electrical systems—visible as flickering lights whenever the heater turned on—by integrating zero switching circuitry in temperature control baths in 1973. Bath temperature set points were limited relative to room temperature, as incidental heat from pumps raised temperatures. Introducing multi-speed pumps enabled lower speeds that produce less heat, allowing set points closer to room temperature. 

Taking time for optimization

Pressure to produce frequent scheduled product updates or new models can form a major innovation pitfall. The drawback of the minimum viable product approach is the need for continuous product revisions, updates, or recalls. 

PolyScience takes the opposite approach, investing more time on design, optimization, and validation. “The reality is that it takes a lot of time to select all the right components and then validate the product,” says Preston. Ease of use is also evaluated during that validation process. As chillers often serve as accessory systems to complex lab instruments, Preston believes it’s critical that they work intuitively, right out of the box. PolyScience takes a traditional, highly effective approach to this aspect of the validation process by having people with no prior experience try the product, while observing the interaction. What buttons did they touch? Did they take wrong turns? How can the exchange be made effortless? 

PolyScience logo is cut into a piece of wood
Credit: PolyScience

Flexibility and evolving expectations

“We’re in a continuously changing environment where the demand for quality and innovation, environmental responsibility … are constantly moving forward,” notes Preston. It takes conscious effort for established companies to stay at the forefront of that evolution. Preston compares the trajectory of the temperature control industry to the automotive industry, where expectations on safety and quality have changed dramatically over the decades. “Looking back at the typical heating circulator in the 1960s, there wasn’t any safety device in these products. The safety device was the heater would burn out.” Modern equipment uses redundant safety systems and materials that are safe for users and the environment, sustainable, and frequently regulated.  

An early focus on environmental concerns and responsible design has helped PolyScience remain at the leading edge. With ISO 14001 and 9001 certification, a switch to natural refrigerant chilling systems, additional sustainability design considerations, and corporate practice, they’ve pre-emptively targeted innovative improvements in an environmentally significant industry. 

Pressure to produce frequent scheduled product updates or new models can form a major innovation pitfall.

Traditional refrigerants pose environmental risks, driving a move to environmentally friendly natural refrigerants that take less energy to produce and can even lower the bottom set point by 10°C. The new DuraChill Benchtop can reach -30°C with the addition of natural refrigerants, a highly sought-after capability for certain industries and applicationsPolyScience initiated the switch several years ago by completely revamping the production line to safely charge units with natural refrigerant gases. Additional features enhancing sustainability include the self-changing filters that reduce materials in landfills and a UV lighting system that replaces algaecide in circulating systems to control biological growth. 

Stringent quality standards that produce lasting products contribute to environmental design as well. “Quality is absolutely one of our cornerstones,” Preston notes. “I think we have more people working in our quality department than any other department associated with the manufacturing process.” That focus on quality and total value ensures success in innovation. With nearly two decades of ISO 9001 certification, the stakes are too high to do otherwise, Preston feels. “When our chiller or temperature control bath fails it could cause a critical piece of equipment” to fail with potentially dire consequences for clinical patients awaiting scans, for example. “We consider it really mission critical.”

PolyScience Proud 

PolyScience has a strong reputation for providing innovative, reliable solutions in the field of temperature control for 60 years. “We were always known and will continue to be known as an innovator, bringing new things to the customer’s experience and just thinking a little outside the box, bringing features that customers just haven’t seen before,” Preston says. 

Creative, big picture thinking focused on removing limitations and bridging gaps has led to numerous awards for transformative innovations and design. Constantly assessing new opportunities and potential, evolving with changing needs and expectations, and a commitment to quality, optimization, and validation have ensured the success of PolyScience solutions. It’s a combination that everyone at PolyScience is proud to continue into the future. Because nearly everything relies on it—breakthrough innovations in temperature control technology enable scientific and industrial transformation.

To learn more, visit polyscience.com.

Top Image:
Credit: PolyScience
Top Image:
Credit: PolyScience