A portable field device that detects cyanide exposure in seconds is one step closer to commercialization.
Potassium cyanide is used to manufacture paper, plastics and synthetic materials, such as spandex and even Kevlar. In addition, the mining and electronics industries use cyanide to extract gold and to apply coating to electrodes. Since cyanide poisoning can kill someone within 30 minutes, emergency personnel need a quick, reliable means of identifying the level of cyanide exposure at the scene of a fire, terrorist attack or manufacturing facility.
The device is part of ongoing research to help create countermeasures for cyanide exposure through funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health.
The cyanide detector South Dakota State University chemistry professor Brian Logue and his group developed can determine cyanide levels in a blood sample within 60 seconds.
“As scientists, we can create something that works great in the lab,” Logue said. However, designing the components so the device can be mass produced requires a different skillset.
Lab to Manufacturing
“To actually put it into practice, we need to think about a lot of things we do not think about in the lab,” he said. For that, Logue turned to the experts at Royal Plastics, a Brookings company that has been doing plastic injection molding for more than 40 years.
Royal Plastics president Mike Peterson and engineer Chris Peterson are working with Randy Jackson, who helped develop the cyanide detector as part of his doctoral research under Logue’s tutelage. Jackson, who is now a research scientist for Seacoast Science Inc., is collaborating with Logue to commercialize the device through a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant.
“When Randy contacted us to find out if the device parts were moldable, we told him ‘bring it out, let’s look at it,’” said Mike Peterson. Jackson brought some 3D CAD files and explained how the device works.
Their first challenge was molding the parts for the disposable cartridge, which contains chemicals that react in the presence of cyanide. The cartridge contains tiny channels of varying diameters through which the chemicals must flow as well as rectangular spaces for vials.
“From a molding standpoint, it is fairly simple,” Chris Peterson said. Basically, it’s a square box with plates that must fit together snugly so there is no leakage. However, “the clear plastic has to be super polished and super clear to see the chemicals (that detect cyanide) fluoresce.”
“We’ve made about half a dozen design changes,” he said, including beveling the outer edges so the piece comes easily out of the mold and adding features to improve durability and alignment.
“Once it’s all assembled, it’s a complicated piece,” Mike Peterson said.
Being able to meet face to face is one of the advantages of working with a local company, Logue said.
“Whenever there was a problem, Randy could give us a call and half an hour later we could be sitting down and figuring out whether it could be fixed or if we needed to go a different direction,” Mike Peterson said.
“As a local company, they are more vested in what we are doing,” Logue said.
Because Royal Plastics is a small company, “we are all intimately involved in the project,” Chris Peterson said.
Furthermore, “There is also a greater level of security in terms of intellectual property,” Logue said. “You feel more comfortable that all the work you’ve done will still be your work.” That is something inventors worry about when they outsource work on their projects.
“We put it all together and it works great,” Logue said. After their success with the disposable cartridge, the researchers are now working with Royal Plastics on the casing for the device.
South Dakota Product
“We recently quoted tooling for the instrument itself,” Chris Peterson said. Prairie Tools of Aberdeen makes the molds that Royal Plastics uses for both the cartridge and the casing.
“The whole project can be done in the state. We can put ‘made in South Dakota USA’ on the product,” Mike Peterson said.
“We are taking a core technology that we proved we could do through research and creating something that could be used in the field and can be manufactured,” Logue said.
“At some point, we hope to be making these by the thousands,” Chris Peterson said.