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Royal Plastics makes parts for cyanide detector

Chris Peterson, Brian Logue, Mike Peterson and Randy Jackson examining parts and mold for cyanide detector
Royal Plastics engineer Chris Peterson, left, SDSU chemistry professor Brian Logue, company president Mike Peterson and research scientist Randy Jackson of Seacoast Science, Inc. discuss mold adaptations for the cyanide detector. Being able to meet face to face is one of the advantages of working with a local company.

A portable field device that detects cyanide exposure in seconds is one step closer to commercialization, thanks to a partnership between Royal Plastics and South Dakota State University chemistry professor Brian Logue. 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.

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 cyanide detector that 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.

“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.

Face-to-face collaboration

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.

plastic cartridge parts and mold
These plastic parts, made by Royal Plastics in Brookings, fit together to make the disposable cartridge for a portable device that can determine the cyanide level in a blood sample within 60 seconds.

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 continued, 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 added.

Being able to meet face to face is one of the advantages of working with a local company, Logue pointed out. Mike Peterson 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.”

In addition, Logue said, “As a local company, they are more vested in what we are doing.” Because Royal Plastics is a small company, “we are all intimately involved in the project,” Chris Peterson said.

Furthermore, Logue noted, “There is also a greater level of security in terms of intellectual property. 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.

Made in South Dakota

“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.

“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. He advises other inventors who need help with plastic molding to “bring it out and we’ll take a look. We can tell pretty quickly what will work.”