The Emphysys Rapid Solution Blueprint – Part 3

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This is the final blog of a three-part series showcasing the Rapid Solution Blueprint, a novel approach that Tecan’s technology development group, Emphysys, has created to navigate the inevitable obstacles in cutting-edge technology development. Here, we take you through the final three arms – ‘brainstorming on device fundamentals’, ‘lab testing to further understanding’ and ‘simulation to further understanding’ – where all the ideas and information is consolidated and used to find inventive measures to proceed at pace. 

Getting creative: novel approaches to progress technology development

Samuel Bruce, Senior Mechanical Engineer at Emphysys

It’s worth highlighting again that this framework arose from a very specific issue encountered when developing the technology for a radio frequency (RF) medical device. There were too many variables for a mental model, prompting the team to re-evaluate its approach and revisit all the different angles. After taking a few steps back, the team not only overcame that particular challenge, but also established a proven model to harness for future projects.

Branch 3: Brainstorming on device fundamentals

The first two branches of the Rapid Solution Blueprint allow us to establish a solid knowledge foundation about what is failing and why, paving the way for hypothesizing on physical concepts that could improve efficacy. This leads into the third branch, which often involves the combined neural connections of our entire team, where every suggestion is welcome – no matter how abstract – until we hit that lightbulb moment, usually igniting a chain reaction of ideas to enhance the device.

This can also include a series of ‘mini experiments’ – to the delight of our engineers – to efficiently solve a stumbling block or prove a suggested theory. For example, for the cannula/flow paradigm we discussed in the second blog, we weren’t sure how adjusting the tubing diameter would affect our flow rate; whether increasing the diameter would accelerate or inhibit the flow. We needed to see what was happening with our own eyes to answer this question. Unfortunately, the RF world is often unfriendly to electronic instruments – including cameras – due to the high voltages in play, so we got creative. We modified an off-the-shelf camera, so it worked in this environment, allowing us to visualize and analyze the liquid flowing through the tube, adding vital information in the process. As enjoyable as this was, it was also highly effective, showcasing the value of these little ‘side experiments’ in unleashing rapid development, leading to micro-adjustments that prepare us for the next stage…

Branch 4: Lab testing to further understanding

Testing is expensive and labor intensive, so you need to be shrewd with what you’re investigating during this stage of development. The bulk of the work here is around performance verification; for example, we may have designed a device to generate a specific voltage or temperature, but is it really doing that? Conversely, is it doing something – even for the slightest of moments that may not be registering – to cause a failure? It’s also here where we start to question every test and measurement we have made, revisiting the ones that look awry.

The main purpose of this section, however, is to evaluate the device’s method of action, and validate the technology concept actually works as expected. In medical device development, this often requires finding a suitable tissue analog to work with, as human tissue is expensive and not always available, especially considering the number of tests we run each day. An alternative tissue must provide similar results to deliver accurate measurements; we could test all day long, but the data would be meaningless unless the analog closely replicates human tissue. Of course, analogs will respond differently depending on the method we are evaluating – for example, thermal, electrical or acoustic outputs – meaning we may choose synthetic options, such as saline or polymer-based materials, or biological samples. For the latter, we have worked with a wide range of materials, as investing this effort early in the process will save time and money down the line.

Branch 5: Simulation to further understanding

The final branch involves generating a series of simulations. This is something we do for almost every engineering effort we undertake, but you need to be careful how you design a simulation to ensure it generates accurate, relevant results: garbage in, garbage out, as they say. We’ve broken down this section into three branches:

  1. Mechanical – if we’re coming up with a new concept, we do a collection of simulations on the main components – for example, flow, structural and thermal elements– in niche models with rapid analysis.
  2. Electrical – we follow a similar structure with electrical components, where we do sub- or broad circuit simulations.
  3. Multiphysics model – using COMSOL multiphysics software allows us to create one model that basically tests everything at once. It’s a big upfront investment in time – including a lot of building, math and making sure the inputs are correct – but you might uncover some interactions between subsystems that help explain an issue.

Taking this approach means we can often perform 20 or 30 simulations a day – instead of maybe one test a week – allowing us to rapidly iterate the device and keep the project ticking along.

The Rapid Solution Blueprint may seem almost intuitive to our experienced scientists and engineers, but it catalogs the myriad of variables involved in each project we undertake, and allows our team to systematically troubleshoot and advance a design. While we discussed the inevitable challenges – and solutions – of technology development, our focus is always on making rapid progress and minimizing risk, helping you to turn your idea into a novel real-world solution quickly, accurately and cost-effectively.

Download the Emphysys Rapid Solution Blueprint and take the first step toward transforming your medical device development strategy.