Reverse engineering an industry leader for the future


Changing Lives

If you wanted to test water toxicity in the early ‘80s, the method since time began was to throw a fish in the water and see if it lived. If it died, it was a certainty that the water was not good for human consumption. You can imagine the effort water testing took back then, with planning and time, not to mention stocking and managing shoals of fish, along with handling large samples of water. Well, that was before the invention of the Microtox, the “gold standard” water toxicity tester.


An offer he couldn’t refuse

Here’s how Microbics' founder/CEO Dr. Don Isenberg explained the Microtox’s development when we met in 1985: “At Beckman Instruments, I was one of the chief scientists who refined the art for making bio-luminescent bacteria applicable to testing water toxicity. The company had difficulties making the system commercially viable, due mostly to the cost of the electronic instrument — a critical element in the product system. I made the Beckman president an offer he couldn't refuse." That offer led to Dr. Isenberg departing the company, taking the technology and starting Microbics Corporation.


Save the fish

Dr. Isenberg's personal hobby was cultivating koi fish in a small pond. In addition to being a fish-lover, he believed every business should aim at a higher cause than just financial gain. Instead of taking the Microtox the popular route — offshore manufacturing — to capitalize on low labor costs, he brought it to ROGOV Design to reverse engineer the entire instrument: its cost, materials, performance and user experience.



The original Microtox was made out of sheet metal, powder coated in an industrial beige color and weighed in at about 80 lb. From a first-time-user's approach, the instrument felt intimidating (particularly with that name). Testing water looked complicated. It took up a lot of space for what it could do, it was labor intensive, it was made from many parts, highly engineered for sheet metal and custom machined parts, with a molded plastic face-frame. The active Lab technician’s interactive parts was a black hand-crank turret mechanism where you put in the cuvette and hand crank anti-clock-wise to shut off unwanted light, which was a discomfort on the wrist after only a few uses.

The other things to notice other than the unfathomable control panel, was the user manual. With about 120 pages in a three ring binder, written in a very scientific manner, we found a way to explain the mystery away in an 8 step Quick Guide. Doing that, took the light away from being a high science system to something that a lab person could do without the need to study the long user manual.


ROGOV Design Process

Coming from a consumer-centered background and experience with materials and processes honed during designs of coolers for Coleman, exotic seating for Aston Martin, musical instruments for CASIO,  opened a whole new world of possibilities to introduce new materials, process and thinking to cut costs, increase performance and  advance a valid, easy-to-use user experience.

The result produced a simple two piece molded clamshell housing to contain everything, the hand-crank-turret was replaced by an electrically automated cuvette feed mechanism which relieved th operator of hand cranking mechanism ― quadrupling through-put while slashing material and manufacturing costs.

The result: a system who’s ease of use, “one button” process has validated the Microtox as the "industry gold standard"  the Brand-of-choice in applications that include the testing of samples containing biological toxins, industrial effluent, industrial process waters, municipal effluent, drinking water, eco toxicological samples, hazardous waste, soil, sediments, storm water and chemical, pharmaceutical and medical products for bioactivity.



simple to use

Microtox® M500 Test is sensitive to more than 2,700 different simple and complex chemicals. Results are available in as little as 15 minutes** Cost effective and easy to perform tests

The Microtox® M500 analyzer is a laboratory-based, temperature-controlled, self-calibrating photometer that measures acute toxicity. Sold worldwide, the Microtox® toxicity test system is the industry gold standard for rapid toxicity screening and analysis.

The Microtox® rapid-toxicity detection platform remains a leader in rapid toxicity detection in drinking water and wastewater. Its contaminant detection technologies allow customers to rapidly, cost-effectively and accurately identify the presence of hazardous chemicals, including those from the USEPA Priority Pollutants List, and other contaminants that can compromise human or environmental health and safety.

Sold to industrial and environmental customers and are trusted by government agencies and researchers around the world.

Simon Humphrey, Chief Executive of Modern Water, said “We are delighted to announce the acquisition of Microtox, the leading worldwide brand in water toxicity monitoring. There are clear synergies between our existing portfolios of water ... and Microtox. In a 2011 Press release.


simple to service

We explored structures and materials which could contain all the components in a compact and cost efficient manner.


simple to make

Following an aggressive schedule, we were able to plug in our affiliated vendors, metal processing and parts finishing houses, as components moved through engineering to the appropriate level of detail and specifications.


Retiring at 32?

Today, the Microtox is the gold standard for testing water efficacy, and it has also satisfied Dr. Isenberg’s objective to eliminate the need to sacrifice perfectly healthy fish to perform rigorous global water testing processes. Still in the marketplace 32 years later, you can find a Microtox toxicity tester in places ranging from soft drink manufacturing plants to remote laboratories in faraway lands.

Need help changing lives? Ask ROGOV!



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