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Tips of the trade: Selecting materials & optimizing manufacturing for medical device carrying solutions

With the increasing complexity of medical equipment, the development of carrying solutions for these products has become significantly more important. Carrying products such as cases, bags and pouches are no longer commodity accessories. Instead, they are now doing far more than just holding and protecting medical devices by also adding measurable functionality and usage value, thus meeting the specific needs of device vendors and their users.

PlasticsToday Staff

February 10, 2011

6 Min Read
Tips of the trade: Selecting materials & optimizing manufacturing for medical device carrying solutions

Because medical devices have become so specialized, a diverse range of competencies is required to develop suitably matching carrying solutions. Certainly, a deep understanding of medical and industrial design is vitally important. However, knowledge of mechanical and materials engineering, ergonomics, biological and medical disciplines, manufacturing, economics, and marketing are all necessary to be able to offer a specialty case that can be effectively utilized by emergency medical professionals, hospital teams, clinical professionals or patients. This article looks briefly at the key elements that go into developing a perfectly matched medical equipment carrying solution.

Balancing Design, Engineering, and Manufacturing
In order to properly produce a custom-designed carrying case for a medical device, every aspect of its usage must be taken into account. Effective design, engineering, and manufacturing means creating an integrated value-added solution that is much more than a mere plastic storage or shipping box. Usability is a primary focus, and everything from ease of access and visibility of screens to the ability to clean and sterilize the case needs to be considered. And, with more medical products being developed that incorporate telecommunications and data transmission capabilities, case design elements that work with or even integrate chargers, docking stations, and stands are increasingly in demand.

Accessories that accompany main devices such as a user manuals, cables and connectors, battery packs, and disposables are also important to take into account when considering the development of a case or bag. When these components are worked into the overall design, the resulting carrying product, along with the accessories and the device, combine to become a cohesive, integrated system.

The main medical carrying solutions design, engineering and manufacturing considerations include:

1. Internal and External Organization: Design must provide an organized arrangement of contained elements so that access, functionality and utility are optimal, beyond just being a simple holder.

2. Cleanability & Maintenance: Maintaining a clean and hygienic product and carrying product are especially paramount for medical applications, where disease and infection are risks.

3. Protection: Regardless of usage environment, whether in the hectic pre-hospital rescue setting or calm, routine clinical environs, expensive and sensitive medical equipment needs protection. Good designs must offer impact resistance, guard against regular ongoing wear, and protect against potentially damaging elements such as rain or dust.

4. Presentation & Appeal: Whether for professional or patient self-use, physical attractiveness and aesthetics are, more and more, taken into consideration for carrying products, as for the contained devices themselves.

5. Integration of Design & Development with Manufacturing: When delivering a perfect carrying solution, great design is a must-have, but it is not enough. Often, if design for manufacturing and assembly (DFMA) is not taken into consideration in a project's early stages, the result is a product that is either too difficult or too costly to practically manufacture. Considerations such as: Production line setup, mold making and tooling, automation vs. hand assembly, factory streamlining, scheduling, material availability and more must be taken into account- even at the design stages- in order to achieve the goal of a "perfect" carrying solution.

Focusing on Function
Beyond a design that works with the specific product's dimension, shape, weight and accessories, it must also be constructed to meet the sometimes rigorous demands of its users. How and where a device will be used plays a big part in a case's design geometrics and construction. For example, a portable heart defibrillator that is carried by an EMT will require a case that is durable, portable, and also provides high levels of impact protection because, in regular field usage, defibrillators tend to be roughed around or even accidentally dropped.

Openings, zippers, and handles require careful selection to ensure ergonomic ease of use. As well, seams and overlapping areas must be minimized where there might be a risk of contamination from bodily fluids or requirements include resistance to weather elements.

Of course, branding and presentation are other important elements. Cases typically need to be consistent in shape, look, and style with the product and other cases within a product line. And, if patients themselves will use the products, the design's visual appeal may have an even more substantial importance.

Selecting Materials
Biocompatibility is paramount when determining the material selection of a medical carrying solution. Durability, weather resistance, impact protection, robustness, cleaning and maintenance, and IP Code ratings are some of the important selection variables that must be taken into consideration. There is a strong interrelation between specific designs and the materials that can be used for those designs. A deep understanding of both how the product will be manufactured and used is required.

Both external and internal materials must work together to create a solution that is functional, manufacaturable, and marketable. Soft materials such as woven polyester, polyamide and neoprene are commonly used for soft sewn bags and pouches. Thermoformed EVA foam shells and reinforced fabrics are often preferred for semi-rigid cases. Some products such as ultrasound transducers require very durable materials such as polycarbonate or rigid polyamide to provide additional protection. There are also complex material solutions such as composites, laminates, and fabrics coated with robust and antibacterial TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) that are the best options for certain applications, such as EMS products.

Besides functional considerations, marketing must also be taken into account. Different materials have varying degrees of brandability and attractiveness to medical device users.

Quality Makes the Difference
Medical equipment manufacturers are spending more than ever on the development, manufacturing, and marketing of their devices. Carrying solutions for these products are increasingly becoming a crucial component in the overall product offering. With the increasing complexities of medical products and of market demands, vendors realize that offering well-designed cases made from high quality materials can present a competitive edge. So, while it is true that using only top quality materials and high-quality manufacturing for the carrying solution may impact direct per-unit product costs, this quality control ultimately contributes to the overall market success of the product and the vendor's profitability.

For example, a detail such as the location of a case zipper or the visibility of a screen through a transparent window in the carrying pouch can make the difference between a product that sells well and one that is rejected by consumers. To ensure that no detail is overlooked, a 360° approach to design, engineering and production is required. 

The reality is that very few medical equipment manufacturers have the in-house capabilities necessary to deliver customized medical equipment carrying solutions that perfectly match their products' needs. Just as the increased innovation of medical devices is increasingly becoming specialty specific and complex, so is the ability to design, develop and produce a perfectly matched carrying case for those products.

Providing a simple off-the-shelf storage case is no longer sufficient when it comes to medical devices. Adding value by including a product-specific carrying solution that becomes part of the product's working system adds value and maximizes the product's usability and market success.

The more medical equipment manufacturers strive to improve and innovate, the more likely they will require specialty carrying solutions to meet their specific requirements. Optimally, leveraging the knowledge and capabilities of an expert medical carrying solutions manufacturer to design and engineer a highly functional, well-matched solution and ensure its production with the highest level of quality control and cost efficiency.

About the author: Yuval Spector is the CEO of Shell-Case Ltd, a global provider of custom-designed carrying solutions for medical devices. He has more than 15 years' experience as a mechanical engineer and product developer. Shell-Case has facilities in Israel and China. Spector submitted this article to PlasticsToday.com.

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