UK companies tackle the challenge of large scale COVID-19 testing

Ziath manufactures instruments for tracking large numbers of scientific sample tubes.

Based near Granta Park Research Campus, just outside Cambridge UK, this small business is now gearing up to produce its tube readers faster than ever before. That’s because Ziath tube scanners are a critical part of the procedure for testing COVID-19 samples in the laboratory. With so many samples arriving at the UK Government’s new testing laboratories in Milton Keynes, Alderley Park and Glasgow, together with University labs switching to COVID-19 testing, keeping track of all these samples is a major headache for scientists. By using tubes for these tests which have a small 2D barcode, like a QR code, on the base, scientists can keep track of each patient’s individual swab and their test results. The Ziath instruments can read these 2D codes from the bottom of the tubes, which are held in racks of 100 or 180 tubes, decode them and send the data to the laboratory central computer in just 2 seconds. With the UK government alone reaching for 100,000 tests per day, delivering the ability to track these samples is clearly crucial to the success of the COVID-19 screening campaign.

However, Ziath would not be able to achieve the fast turn around and scale up in their business to meet this challenge without the unwavering support of their key suppliers – many of whom are also small businesses who are experts in their field. Photofab, headquartered in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire, is one such key supplier. Established in 1971,

Photofab is a world leader in chemically etched metal components, having designed and produced more than 70,000 different parts since it started. In their words, “If you can draw it, we can make it, as long as it’s in thin sheet metal.” That, naturally, includes intricately cut and etched metal shields for the Ziath scanners that prevent the on-board computer from interfering with other sensitive instruments in the laboratory.

Steve Knight, Ziath commercial director, commented “Without trusted suppliers such as Photofab in St Neots and our wiring loom supplier, Powerwise in West Wratting, we would not be able to respond to this global crisis as quickly as we have. Thanks to their efforts and support we are now building and delivering tube scanners for COVID-19 testing not just in the UK, but to Norway, Israel, Germany, Austria, and through a United Nations programme, to Myanmar, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Republic of Congo, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, and El Salvador.”

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