Oxford Nanopore automates flow cell production at new UK facility

Besides flow cells, the MinION building integrates processes that are typically found in other industries; semiconductor manufacture, life sciences and computational tool development

Oxford Nanopore has started high-tech, automated manufacturing processes at its new factory in Oxford, UK. The MinION building is a bespoke, state-of-the-art facility that manufactures consumable flow cells for the company's novel, real-time DNA/RNA sequencing devices.

Full, end-to-end production will be phased in at the plant over the coming months. The factory, located on the Harwell Campus in Oxford, will support a significantly increased production capability, exceeding 1 million flow cells/year in 4-5 years.

In addition to flow cells, the MinION building integrates a range of processes that are typically found in other industries; semiconductor manufacture, life sciences and computational tool development.

The build of the factory has been timed to support rapid growth in demand for nanopore sequencing technology

Gordon Sanghera, CEO of Oxford Nanopore, said: "For years we have been innovating production processes, to prepare for automation and scaling of our manufacturing processes. The build of the factory has been timed to support rapid growth in demand for nanopore sequencing technology. “

Sanghera added that the company’s orders and revenues increased 2.5 times between 2017 and 2018, continuing to grow 2019.

Scaling up

Scaling up production in step with demand for a technology is a process that requires manufacturing innovation, automation and a forward-thinking approach. Oxford Nanopore continues to invest in R&D, driving continuous improvement of the performance of its sequencing technology.

The range of sequencing devices has been expanded and now includes ultra-high throughput PromethION 48/24, the desktop GridION, the portable MinION and the Flongle, for rapid, smaller tests.

Oxford Nanopore's novel, real-time, long-read, direct sequencing technology is is now being used globally by scientists working across a broad range of applications; including human genetics, cancer research, disease surveillance, environmental analysis, agriculture and most recently in food safety testing and health applications. This breadth is possible because nanopore sequencing can be done at any scale, adding decentralised analyses to a market that has traditionally been highly centralised.

The MinION building

The traditional approach of labour-intensive 'copy-and-repeat' manufacturing lines is risky when doing rapid scaleup of a business. Automation, therefore, needs to be considered early in the innovation cycle, years in advance of scaling up.

Inside the 34,500 sqft MinION building, Oxford Nanopore has invested in new high-volume, automated manufacturing processes. This is designed to achieve greater levels of production control and product homogeneity, at a scale that will ensure the company can meet future, increased demand.

Angus Horner, Partner and Director of Harwell Campus, said: "We are delighted that Oxford Nanopore has chosen to open their high-tech manufacturing facility on Harwell Campus where we've seen them grow from offering pilot-scale manufacturing into this automation-driven facility."

Production capabilities

The factory will manufacture consumable flow cells for the MinION, GridION, PromethION and Flongle devices, as well as for future novel devices such as SmidgION (a smartphone sequencer) and Plongle ('plate Flongle', for high sample number, small/rapid tests).

The factory is also designed to scale up manufacturing of current and future preparation kits that accompany the consumable flow cells, as well as new lines such as Ubik – a rugged, power-free sample extraction and preparation device.

Innovation is part of the process, as the build has required years of investment in new technology processes and novel materials. Colocating processes like flow cell manufacture and semiconductor manufacturing aim to speed up production.

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