WESTBROOK, ME—Systems integrator Lanco Integrated has completed an automated assembly system to produce components for coronavirus test kits. Typically, designing and building such a machine would take approximately 35 weeks, including design, engineering and manufacturing. Lanco had it ready in just eight weeks.

“When the request came in…I immediately thought, ‘This is crazy,’” says Jake Rollins, a Lanco engineer. “We can’t build a machine in eight weeks. But then my next thought was, ‘There has to be a way to do it.’”

Rollins and another engineer, David Raymond, led the project, which was commissioned by Dutch medical company QIAGEN at the onset of the pandemic. The machine, which will be located at QIAGEN’s assembly plant in Germantown, MD, was needed to produce miniature “spin columns,” a key component in testing kits for the coronavirus test kits. The machine would have to assemble 6,000 parts per hour.

Working remotely, the Lanco team developed processes on the fly. “For material procurement, for example, we were preordering stuff before we were typically ready to, knowing that we had to…bet on what we were going to use [so we could] receive it on time,” says Rollins.

The design phase, which would normally take five to six weeks, was completed in six days. “In the beginning, we were working seven days a week until midnight or 2 a.m. to get everything pushed through,” says Rollins.

Working around the clock in two shifts, a team of 20 to 35 people built the 60-foot machine in record time.

“There are opportunities for expediting our build process that we never thought possible,” says Raymond. “The effort that we put into the QIAGEN machine has really opened our eyes as a company as to what we can accomplish with a common goal.”