Technical University of Denmark: DTU’s clean room provides reassurance for chip manufacturers

Small production batches of chips for measuring equipment can be quality-sensitive items when you order them from international suppliers. That’s why the startup SBT Instruments has rented DTU’s clean room. There, they produce a chip for the BactoBox measuring device which is used to measure bacterial concentrations in samples within a few minutes. Keeping the production in Denmark gives SBT Instruments control of quality and supply, and this is crucial for the companies that have bought a BactoBox and need to change the product’s flow cell chip after every 250 measurements.

“We’re completely dependent on being able to deliver new flow cells to our customers so they can perform their measurements. Previously, we had them manufactured abroad, but as a small customer of the major manufacturers, we’ve experienced problems with waiting times and quality, and we can’t live with that. Therefore, it’s crucial for us to be able to use the clean room and gain control over the quality and delivery times,” says Gustav Skands, CEO and co-founder of SBT Instruments.

Renting machines in the clean room
SBT Instruments is one of the 250 customers using machines and rooms in DTU Nanolab’s clean room, where the filtered air is replaced twice a minute and has a very low concentration of airborne particles. The flow cells and microchips must be produced in clean rooms to prevent dust particles from contaminating the micro- and nanostructures that researchers and companies manufacture. Everyone who works in the clean room must therefore wear a full suit, hood, boots, gloves, and aren’t allowed to eat, drink, or use mobile phones.

Large companies often rent a shielded area of the clean room, while SBT Instruments rents in order to use special machines to produce their flowcell.

“It would be extremely expensive to establish our own clean room, so it’s key for a company like ours to be able to rent one. Once we get more revenue, we’d like to have our own machines and more space in DTU’s clean room. This is essential for us to be able to expand our production. The alternative would be that we’d have to move some of our production abroad as we grow,” says Gustav Skands.

Results ready in minutes
SBT’s BactoBox is based on a new approach to measuring bacteria in a sample. Whereas the traditional counting process is done on agar plates in petri dishes and take 1–3 days, BactoBox is based on an impedance flow cytometry, where the bacteria present in a sample are passed through a chip, a microfluidic flow cell. Inside the cell, the bacteria pass through a channel between two electrodes that can detect the bacteria based on their electrical properties and sizes. This creates a kind of fingerprint that makes it possible to count them. The test results are ready in a few minutes.

The BactoBox technology is relevant for companies that produce bacteria (e.g. for food fermentation) and companies that use bacterial fermentation to produce enzymes or other molecules.

SBT Instruments was established as a startup company in DTU in 2014. It had a turnover of DKK 7 million in 2021, mainly from customers in Europe and the US.

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