Scale-up: Oxford Nanopore’s new high-tech factory comes online

8th July 2019, Oxford, UK: 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, high-tech manufacturing facility that brings new, highly automated production processes to the manufacturing of consumable flow cells for Oxford Nanopore’s novel, real-time DNA/RNA sequencing devices. Full, end-to-end production will be phased in 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.

Gordon Sanghera, CEO Oxford Nanopore commented:

“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. Our order book and revenues increased 2.5X between 2017 and 2018, and in 2019 we have seen strong growth continue. It’s a very exciting time for the company.”

Scaling up: a balance of innovation, commercial expansion and production

For a successful growth company, scaling up production in step with demand for a technology is a process that requires huge 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.

This, alongside global commercial expansion, has driven increasing demand over recent years for Oxford Nanopore’s novel, real-time, long-read, direct sequencing technology. It is now being used in more than 80 countries 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. More than 450 scientific publications now feature nanopore sequencing, whether in the field or in the lab.

The MinION building: automating for growth

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 – to meet the anticipated rapid growth that disruptive new technologies can see.

Inside the 34,500 sq. ft. 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.

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. The MinION building integrates a range of processes that are typically found in other industries, for example semiconductor manufacture, life sciences and computational tool development.