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Targeting new UK sectors with innovative mass spectrometry applications

CASE STUDY: LECO collaborates with SPRINT to create innovative analytical processes to target key sectors

Funding from the national SPRINT business support programme enabled LECO to collaborate with The Open University

LECO is recognised globally as a leader in the development of high-quality elemental and thermal analysis equipment, mass spectrometers, metallography and optical equipment, and consumables.

As part of its strategic plan, LECO was looking to create innovative analytical processes to target key sectors including food safety, sensory, and forensics and toxicology.

To support this work, the company accessed funding from the national SPRINT business support programme to enable it to collaborate with the Applied Science & Technology Group at SPRINT partner, The Open University.

Focusing on three key sectors

The objective of the SPRINT project was to create novel analytical processes which would open new markets and improve existing market opportunities for its instrumentation. This was focused on targeting customers with a complete application-specific solution including instrumentation and the training and application of operating procedures created and evaluated by The Open University. 

The SPRINT project took the form of multiple sub-projects, reflecting LECO’s interest in three key sectors:

  • Identifying branded alcoholic drink signatures to detect adulterated and fake copies
  • Monitoring of volatiles in the air within critical secure environments, including military vessels such as submarines
  • Food and drink sector

The project used space expertise developed at The Open University that enabled the analysis of volatile gases on the surface of comets. This expertise supported the innovations required for the Rosetta and Beagle2 missions and more recently, the proposed PROSPA and LUVMI lunar missions.

Benefits achieved through the SPRINT support included:

  • As a result of the SPRINT project, LECO has made a sale to defence company for enclosed air monitoring of a military site, following a demonstration of the system at The Open University.

  • Also, as a direct result of the project, it has made a sale to a major global market leader in the food and drink sector to help enhance the understanding of shelf lives of their products.

  • Based on the benefits demonstrated by the SPRINT programme, The Open University STEM Faculty has strategically invested in the purchase of two LECO BT GCxGC-ToF Mass Spectrometer instruments from LECO.

  • Access to key players in the distilled spirit sector, including the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, as well as Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority and The State Laboratory in Ireland and the wider community through a joint presentation at the World Distilled Spirits Conference 2021.

  • Through a joint research project with De Monfort University, The Open University, Sheffield Hallam University and King’s College London, LECO has supported the work  funded by the Partnership for Clean Competition, a US charity, to develop novel assays targeting the testing of designer steroids to the standards required for the Olympic Games, providing an opportunity to disseminate the added value of its instruments to that sector.

  • Five-year sponsorship agreement signed with The Open University to deliver a range of future projects.

Creating a competitive advantage through research expertise

Alan Griffiths, Separations Product Specialist at LECO UK

Alan Griffiths, Separations Science Product Specialist at LECO UK said: “LECO is a global company and is growing its UK operations. We were looking for a partner to support us in taking our instrumentation and methodologies to the next level – allowing customers to resolve the details of their complex samples as never before. As we’ve worked with Dr Morgan’s group at The Open University in the past, it’s clear that with their knowledge, resources and experience, they’re one of the few groups in the country to have such broad research capabilities.

“We wanted to be in a position where companies in key areas are more aware of LECO and our technology, enabling us to build our UK business. The markets for instrumentation are very broad and this SPRINT project enabled us to specialise in a few key applications driven by our existing and future customers.”

Nick Jones, Global Application & Development Director at LECO added: “Through SPRINT funding, we’ve been able to collaborate with The Open University to build a network of industry contacts, allowing us to develop solutions and apply our technique in different ways with a tailored approach. This expertise has meant that we can propagate our knowledge of the technology into areas where we have confidence.

“Forging strategic partnerships with highly capable academic laboratories, which also have strong links with and focus towards industry, is a high priority. In the case of the UK, the opportunity to work together with the OU was initiated and setup by the UK Sales Director and was identified as a key partnership which we could move forward with, fitting very much inline with our overall European strategy.

“During this project, a solution was successfully developed for the monitoring of volatiles in air within critical secure environments, including military vessels such as submarines. This solution was then demonstrated at the OU facility to the industry customer and has directly resulted in the sale of a LECO BT GC-TOFMS, to them.

“This is a strategic win, because this sold solution is now on track, as intended, to lead to a number of additional systems being purchased by connected laboratories in industry and in the military, who have been working together in this field.

“The working relationship with Dr Morgan’s team has been excellent and through collaboration on a variety of SPRINT projects we have been able to optimise and then directly promote the analytical benefits of our technology to a range of new companies in the food and drink sector.

“Based on the success so far, we have made an offer to The Open University, for a 5-year strategic sponsorship of Dr Morgan’s laboratory, with a view to growing the portfolio of projects with an increasingly diverse network of potential future customers. This initiative is a key part of our business plan because of the direct industry links and focus available to us via Dr Morgan.”

Providing a platform to produce value proposition

Dr Geraint Morgan, Applied Science & Technology Group lead in the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University continued: “The SPRINT funding allowed us to further develop our existing relationship with LECO Instruments UK, building on our track record of developing novel laboratory assays and our extensive network of collaborators who are all potential future LECO customers.

“The project provided us with access to LECO’s BT GCxGC-TOFMS instrument, with a view to developing commercial products and solutions for adoption by a range of new customers in a range of sectors.

“SPRINT has provided the University and LECO with a platform to produce a value proposition that has resulted in significant STEM Faculty strategic investment that will enhance our research for years to come and also deliver impact beyond academia on both a national and global scale.”

Dr Geraint Morgan, Applied Science & Technology Group lead in the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University

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