Technologies from one industry often drive innovation and design evolution in another. Medical device design is influenced by products that are being used in aerospace and military. The consumer market is also an industry that can impact device design. In this month's Perspectives feature, industry leaders share their thoughts on how consumer products will influence future medical device designs.
Q: What characteristic of today’s consumer products will we see emerging as a feature in tomorrow’s medical devices?
Technical Marketing Manager, Application Specific Contracts, DALSA
New classes of imaging devices that will emerge in the medical field are very small, cost efficient, and low power imagers. Nowadays, very commonly applied in cell phones, the drive for even smaller pixels with still acceptable image performance as well as low power consumption and higher frame rates for video-like applications will bring benefits to medical devices like the “camera pill.”
Some companies have experimented with this concept for some years now and the total size of the camera is indeed reaching the size of a pill that can be swallowed and provide images from inside the body. Advances in wireless communication allow in-situ data transfer, providing video like images of the journey through the digestive system. Efforts are being made to remove the dependency on batteries in the pill and supply power by radio waves that are capable of penetrating the human body and picked up by an antenna in the pill. This wireless power supply will have dramatic impact on the size of the pill as well as the cost.
It is expected that applications for the camera pill will extend from ‘just imaging’ to more sophisticated optical analysis like fluoroscopy, allowing diagnostics of malignant tissue. Although the imager requirement for this application may become decoupled from the consumer requirement, there is still enough common ground to support this trend by the application of small and efficient imager building blocks.
By using the technologies like CMOS-based imagers—driven by, for example, the cell phone market—the camera pill can be applied at lower cost compared to traditional diagnostic techniques like endoscopy. So potentially, this technology will enable more cost efficient healthcare within reach of more people around the world.
Professional Services Manager, SYSPRO
Manufacturers of consumer products have learned that an important way to create a competitive advantage is through product differentiation (i.e., building a variety of product models that cater to varying consumer tastes).
Medical device manufacturers should take a lesson from these consumer manufacturers by adopting product differentiation practices that enable them to compete better by meeting the specific requirements of their customers.
World Precision Instruments (WPI) is a global leader in TEER measurement, nitric oxide sensing, and other sophisticated instrumentation vital to physiological and medical research. Customers include independent and “in-house” research labs, schools, and hospitals. Each has specific product requirements. As a full-spectrum supplier of proprietary and standard instrumentation as well as associated “consumables,” WPI enjoys a distinct competitive advantage through its ability to fashion custom products to accommodate specific research needs. By utilizing SYSPRO software’s rules-based Product Configurator to customize products while tracking the compatibility of individual system components, WPI readily satisfies the demands of its customers.
Perhaps, a minor drawback to utilizing a product configurator is the initial time required to enter the various product parameters. But, once this is accomplished, those utilizing a product configurator can achieve a distinct competitive advantage.
Marketing Manager, Medical Business Unit, Texas Instruments
As medical devices become a more common part of everyday life, it’s highly likely they’ll take on characteristics of today’s consumer or consumer electronics products. Over the lifecycle, we’ve seen that transition with many categories of products previously. At one time, personal computers (then laptops) were only thought of as office or work-related devices. Now, they’re an integral part of most people’s lifestyle, whether used for entertainment, education, or communication.
While medical devices will still likely have a much more focused function, moving towards consumer means they’ll be much more widely accepted and more integrated with people’s lifestyles. Therefore, it’s also likely that the typical characteristics that come with an increased consumer focus will be adopted or expected from medical devices.
These characteristics include much more emphasis on ergonomics or stylish design, as well as making the device intuitive and easy-to-use. Making the device attractive to consumers usually also implies frequent updates and feature enhancements for the product. For an electronic device, this typically implies a much heavier reliance on software as a means to differentiate.
Thus, medical device designers and manufacturers will evolve to adapt to the new challenges more consumer-like products will bring. For most consumer products, performance is a given, and consumer choice (e.g., competition) is based on the overall experience. Finally, using techniques like platform-based design, medical OEMs will have to find ways to drive shorter product lifecycles, and work with the FDA on approvals where significantly more functionality is driven by software.