Friday, 30 January 2015

Standing on the precipice looking down

Have you seen the film Sliding Doors? In the movie, Gwyneth Paltrow's love life and career hinge on one defining moment; whether or not she catches a train. I recently had my own Sliding Doors moment, that illustrated how design for medical devices can easily go in two very different directions.

by Rob Phillips

smart batteries for medical devices
Smart batteries for medical devices
I was recently invited to a supplier day by an OEM, where the plastics, fan motherboard and smart battery providers got together with the design engineers from the client to talk over a new project. I call this type of gathering a precipice meeting; it allows you to work together as a team, standing on the edge of a precipice before the project truly begins.

In the 'bad old days' suppliers in each of those categories were usually pitted against each other, one manufacturer played off against the other, and the purchasing team would try to pick out good ideas from the various proposals.

Today, the modern precipice meeting is smarter and more inclusive, allowing suppliers to prove their worth by creating the most functional solution, not simply the cheapest. The purchasing people are partnered more effectively with the designers, which can only be a positive when it comes to the end product.

Life-critical applications
Medical technology is one of the world’s fastest growing industries and, because medical devices and equipment can be life-critical, they demand designs which are innovative, but also safe and reliable. During the early stage of the design process it's invaluable to share ideas of best practice and discuss the possible pitfalls. The input produced can have a huge impact on the design and its ultimate success.

Design engineers are clued-up when it comes to their product as a whole, but they can't be expected to be an authority on every component of the design. As battery experts we believe that OEMs should not be shackled by commodity batteries and we relish the chance to align ourselves with creative manufacturers. For us, a huge amount of energy and anticipation goes into every project and it's exciting to play our part in delivering a new generation of medical device.

Sharing ideas
Of course, it requires an element of trust between each of the members of the group, because they share their intellectual property, but the end result is a better environment and product for all involved. It's not just the design engineer who comes away with new ideas, having different manufacturers in the room means that you can all gain insights into areas outside your sphere of activity.

Precipice meetings are true Sliding Doors moments. They are an opportunity to test a project and fix the potential problems a long time before manufacturing begins. I'm sure Gwyneth Paltrow and the rest of the team behind the movie would approve.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Lifespan and the Apple expectation

Apple has applied for a patent to build a docking station to charge devices like the iPhone and iPad, which will retract the connector when the "iDevice" is being removed, to prevent damage to both the dock and the item. 

By Neil Oliver 

The move illustrates a trend in the consumer IT environment for improved reliability and increased robustness. However, that trend has been evident in industry for decades. But it isn't necessarily a good thing for the two concepts to become intertwined.

The expectations we should have of a battery for a professional medical application, for instance, would - in a world where the battery or charger is optimised for performance - be very different to those we might have in a consumer environment.

For instance, a medical professional might see the embedded battery in an iPhone or an iPad and be impressed by the sleek, seamless design it provides. As a result, they may well expect the power source in their professional devices to also be embedded.

However, in a medical device, with a product life cycle of ten to fifteen years, an embedded battery would be impractical. Over that kind of lifespan, the battery would have to be replaced five or six times, which would be impractical and costly. In a consumer device like an iPhone, the entire product is likely to have been replaced before the battery fails.

Size requirements 
Just as the aesthetics of an embedded battery might seem attractive at first glance, attempting to reduce the size requirement of a battery by embedding it might also seem like a good idea. This would remove the need for battery housing, thus reducing the space requirement.

However, this can only really be a workable option in a disposable or very short lifespan medical device. In more typical applications, where the device costs tens of thousands of pounds and lasts for more than a decade, it isn't practical for the same reason. A removable, rechargeable battery is the only workable option from a cost and reliability perspective.

Battery lifespan
Battery lifespan can also be a radically different requirement depending on the medical application. In some instances, replacing the battery every year is fine and also what the user expects - from both a practical and financial perspective.

However, if a battery designed for a frequently used application is only capable of 300 cycles, which is to say 300 full charges and 300 full discharges, it would be unlikely to last for even one year. The feedback that most of our OEM partners receive from hospitals is that they expect the battery to last for two to three years.

Most phone batteries will have a lifespan of around 300 cycles. This means that, after a year or two, the user will need to replace the battery or the device. As a manufacturer of batteries for professional applications, it’s crucial to understand the expectation this creates; otherwise you can very easily expose your OEM partner to criticism from the end user. Normally this means advising the OEM to change the expectation of its user community, compromise the power budget in some way or adapt the device itself.

Often, in this situation it is the power budget and thus the battery’s lifetime that suffers. It’s very difficult for an OEM to double the size or weight of a device, to allow for a larger power source for instance, and a good battery manufacturer will understand that.

The irony is that because manufacturers focus on the most obvious demands from the end user, the actual needs of this end user may not get enough consideration. The organisation that has to change the battery every year, and pay for that change, may have been willing to suffer a slight increase in size, in exchange for improved functionality and reduced operating expenditure.

Once an end user such as a hospital, considers the realities of increased cost and maintenance, they may well be very happy for the device to lack the product design brilliance of an iPad, but provide lower maintenance and replacements costs.

Nevertheless, from a personal point of view, I will be the first person to snap up the new i-Device charging and docking station. Like many people in the electronics industry, I'm a technology fan and find both the patent and the product interesting. However, I won’t be changing my view regarding the needs of professional battery applications as a result.

Read more about Accutronics’ work in professional medical battery applications here.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Charging ahead in innovation

~Accutronics celebrates a year of innovation at America's largest medical technology show~

Batteries for medical devices
Smart batteries for medical devices
International battery manufacturer Accutronics will join thousands of medical industry suppliers and
service providers at MD&M West, on February 10-12, 2015 in Anaheim, California, where the British company will showcase the latest products from its Entellion range. Accutronics can be found in Hall E at Booth 412.

The theme of the 2015 conference is a celebration of 30 years of medtech innovation, and this year British manufacturer Accutronics has proven it is more than up for the challenge. During 2014, the independent battery expert launched two new products to add to its range of smart portable power products, both of which will be exhibited at the event.

Most recently, Accutronics introduced the CMX Series, a range of innovative smart batteries and chargers. With the increase in the use of portable medical devices, such as acute ventilators and anaesthesia workstations, the new smart battery fulfils the needs of manufacturers of high powered medical devices.

During the summer the company also introduced the CX6100, an innovative desktop charger for its groundbreaking credit card battery range. The new charger has a rapid charge capability and can be used around the world, thanks to its wall mounted power supply. The credit card battery range provides OEMs with a rechargeable range of Lithium Ion professional batteries for portable and wearable medical devices.

"The medical market is a challenging environment and there's a constant demand on medical OEMs to produce innovative portable devices," explained Rob Phillips, managing director of Accutronics.

"Thanks to our understanding of the market requirements we've been able to develop a range that meets the need for high energy density and high power discharge, without compromising on safety and reliability in life-critical applications."

At the event, the Accutronics team will showcase its skills in the design, development and manufacturing of medical batteries and smart chargers. On display will be the complete Entellion range of products which bridge the gap between standard off-the-shelf products and a custom design with inherent development fees, saving customers time and money. The range can easily be customised with options including product labelling and case colours, software setup and SHA-1 algorithmic security, which prevents counterfeit batteries being used under fraudulent warranty claims.