Open-source Thinking is Revolutionizing Medical Device Development

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

medical deviceWhen we think about medical care in the future, we tend to think about the progress technology will bring us, with cutting-edge machines that let us see what’s happening inside our bodies in ever-greater detail.

That’s true, but there’s another aspect to technological progress. As Moore’s Law brings down the cost of computing, and as consumer electronics become more sophisticated and yet cheaper, there are opportunities to use those advances to make medical devices that can serve the bottom of the pyramid.

The global middle class is estimated at 1.8 billion people in 2009, a number expected to rise to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. Years ago, many people in developing countries viewed medical care as out of reach as jetting off on vacation. Today, the new middle class in these countries is going on vacation, and it expects decent health care too.

A new breed of bioengineers sees opportunity in emerging markets for devices that deliver results without costly bells and whistles.

There are still very challenging design and engineering problems,” says Josh Kornfeld, president of Tactile Inc., a Seattle product and interaction design firm. “But until five or 10 years ago, nobody even had an interest in designing for markets like this unless it was an NGO [nongovernmental organization]. Now, they’re not just giving a gift to these countries; they’re companies that are building long-term business models around servicing the needs of these countries.”

Mr. Kornfeld’s company helped Intellectual Ventures Lab and the Gates Foundation engineer a cooler whose proprietary materials make it so efficient it can keep vaccines cold for 30 days using just ice. That’s crucial in places where electricity is at best irregular and at worst non-existent—factors that have left many people unable to get vaccinated.

In the U.S. and Europe, we relish complexity,” he says. “We see technological devices as better the more training they require. We can afford to train people and make sure things get cleaned the right way and police all that stuff. In Africa, they’re highly trained people—the WHO [World Health Organization] does a great job of that—but the facilities they have access to, clean water, the resources for cleaning equipment the right way, aren’t as good. So it requires different design for use in those areas.”

In other words, the future of medical devices will involve, to a large extent, streamlining and simplifying.

Evolving Technologies, or Evotech, of San Francisco came up with a simplified endoscope—an instrument with a camera for looking inside the body. Evotech’s endoscope, called EvoCam, is being used in Uganda and India in keyhole surgery, hysterectomy surgery, ear and nose care such as sinus operations, and complicated cases of vaginal fistulas.

The EvoCam costs about $500, versus $50,000 to $100,000 for the high-tech systems usually used in modern hospitals. These modern systems weigh about 100 pounds, and consist of several devices—an image-processing unit, a light source and other modules, which sit on a big cart. Evotech turned it into a tablet- or laptop-based system.

When modern endoscopes were developed in the mid-1970s, consumer electronics were no match—videocassette recorders were rare and camcorders were huge. Today, a person can add a high-definition camera to a mobile phone for $2.

Evotech put the EvoCam under a Creative Commons license and published a shopping list of off-the-shelf parts, along with assembly instructions, so doctors anywhere can make their own. By not using proprietary parts, repairs are cheap and easy. For example, the EvoCam uses a regular USB cable to connect the device to a laptop; modern systems have special cords that cost about $1,000 to replace and that aren’t easily available, says Moshe Zilversmit, co-founder of Evotech.

Now we want to open-source it so anybody can build it,” Mr. Zilversmit says. “We’re trying to create a community where physicians come back with different ideas about how to improve it. We can gather information on what kinds of surgeries they’re doing. A lot of them are macgyvering it,” referring to the TV character who uses resources at hand to solve difficult problems.

Open-source innovation for medical devices is a new frontier. Even in the information technology industry, open-source hardware is a new, but growing, trend.

When you think of medical devices, it’s about high margins and low-volume sales,” says Avi Latner, Evotech’s other co-founder. “When you do affordable devices, you have to go beyond product design and rethink the business model as well. We decided we wanted to make it open source. Like software—open source revolutionized software. On the common basis of free tools, why not do the same for hardware in medicine?”

The trend is likely to lead to better-designed and better-engineered products adapted to emerging markets. And as fiscally strapped developed countries re-examine health-care spending, medical devices that are cheap, solid and simple are likely to gain favor in certain cases where the benefits of fancier systems is marginal.

For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

Designing Solutions for a Less Wasteful Life

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

Lego bricksThe future of design looks a lot like Legos.

Modular design allows a product to be assembled from easily replaceable or interchangeable parts. Most people are familiar with it in architecture and furniture. However, it’s also being applied to other things, from nuclear-power plants to shoes, submarines and guitars.

Modular design is gaining traction thanks to the convergence of several trends. Mass customization is pushing industries—from consumer products and electronics to automobiles—to find ways to deliver customized solutions without sacrificing economies of scale. Tighter environmental regulations are prompting companies to find ways to reduce waste caused by their products. And consumers, fed up with a throwaway society, are looking for products that manage to last yet which can be upgraded as needed.

Take mobile phones: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans disposed of 129 million mobile devices in 2009 and sent 11.7 million for recycling.

I was thinking about stuff and why we throw it away,” says Dave Hakkens, who invented Phonebloks, a modular design for a mobile phone. “All our electronics are disposable. If a bike has a flat [tire] you fix it, you don’t throw it away. But if a phone part is broken, you have to throw [the phone] away.”

old cellphonesIn wanting to reduce electronic waste, Mr. Hakkens considered several alternatives. “Should I make a phone that could last 100 years?” he asks. “I like technology and the way it evolves and can improve our lives. If I make a phone that lasts 100 years, I won’t be able to upgrade it. But if it has modules that I can upgrade, I can throw away only a little part.”

Unbeknown to Mr. Hakkens, Motorola Mobility had been working on a modular mobile phone as well, called Project Ara. Google, which acquired Motorola in 2011, is expected to unveil its prototype of Project Ara next year. The goal: a phone that can be customized and upgraded at will.

Mr. Hakkens, who came up with the idea of Phonebloks as a graduation project from the Dutch Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, has linked up with Project Ara.

It’s hard to make a phone and it’s a tough world—you need patents, lawyers, you have to compete with big companies,” he says. “I don’t want to build a phone myself. I don’t want to start a phone company. I want to push industry to start a new way to make phones.”

Phonebloks

Mobile phones might be just the beginning. “The Phonebloks concept could be extended to all electronic devices: cameras, TVs, computers,” he says. “You could have building-blocks for electronics, with components that can be exchanged among them and can be upgraded.”

In such a world, it’s possible that new entrants would design the ultimate camera module, while others would specialize in the smallest, lightest battery, and still others would focus on packing more capacity into the memory module. Just as now, you can buy specialized software to meet your needs: in the future, you may be able to buy pieces of a phone to put together the mobile device best suited to your uses.

While some companies choose modular design for competitive advantage, others might find themselves pushed in that direction by environmental-protection laws. The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) for the European Economic and Social Committee of the European Union is working on ways to stop planned obsolescence.

For example, a decade ago the EU banned chips in printer cartridges that signaled the cartridges were empty when they still contained ink. Now it’s taking aim at things like batteries in phones that are impossible for people to replace themselves—and which are so expensive to have fixed by the manufacturer that most people just buy a new phone instead.

“We’ll have less waste,” says Jean-Pierre Haber, delegate of the CCMI consultative committee. “We now create 500 tons of waste per person per year.”

The CCMI proposes five requirements for consumer goods:

  • a minimum two-year guarantee
  • replacement parts available for at least five years
  • certification on the nature and life cycle of all products, no matter their country of origin
  • manufacturer-trained repair shops, which could generate 450,000 jobs in Europe
  • an orientation toward an economy of functionality, so that rather than buying a product, you buy a service, and companies would see incentives in designing goods that don’t break.

Overall, the thrust is to promote the design of goods that can be repaired or upgraded, rather than requiring purchase of a completely new item.

The online community iFixit, which encourages repair over replacement, suggests design features such as product cases that are easy to open, or that have doors to allow access to the inner workings; making the most breakable parts the easiest to access; making some internal components standardized and replaceable by commodity parts; making repair instructions free and publicly available.

We need lots of innovation,” Mr. Haber says. “But we need innovation that gives added value for the consumer and that doesn’t create problems for the environment.”

We need innovation that gives added value for the consumer and that doesn’t create problems for the environment Tweet: “We need innovation that gives added value for the consumer and that doesn’t create problems for the environment”

For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

11 Benefits That Sway Non-Practitioners to Adopt Lean Construction Practices

By Akio
McGraw Hill Construction, the Lean Construction Institute, and Dassault Systèmes teamed up to produce an in-depth report on Lean Construction. Below is an excerpt from that report on the benefits that will influence non-practitioners to adopt Lean practices.

Construction workers

Potential Benefits With a High Influence on Non-Practitioners for the Adoption of Lean Practices

Over half of the firms that are familiar with Lean but are not using any Lean practices find that nine different benefits from achieving Lean would be highly influential on their decision to use a Lean approach.

While some factors do appear to influence a wider range of companies, this finding does suggest that emphasizing the range of benefits to be achieved by implementing Lean will be an effective way to engage a broad swath of the industry.

Tweet: Emphasizing the range of implementing #LeanCon is an effective way to engage non-practitioners @Dassault3DS http://ctt.ec/aBoyr+ Tweet: “Emphasize the range of #LeanCon
benefits to engage non-practitioners”

Firms appear to be influenced most by factors that impact their bottom line and their competitiveness, but factors that help them improve the way work is done at their company—from improving safety to the ability of supervisory staff to focus on managing employees—are also important.

The potential benefits with the greatest degree of influence on these firms are similar to the benefits expected by practitioners when they first implemented Lean.

Greater productivity and profitability are considered the most influential drivers. The study results clearly demonstrate that most contractors who have implemented any Lean practices are experiencing these benefits, but firms considering Lean need to make sure the level of achievement they expect coincides with what others in the industry have achieved.

Other critical benefits to encourage wider Lean adoption among those familiar with Lean are greater customer satisfaction and higher quality construction.

These directly impact a firm’s reputation and their ability to be competitive, and they are among the highest of the benefits reported. To encourage wider Lean adoption, capturing these benefits in clear, quantifiable terms and widely publicizing them is likely to have a broad impact in the industry.

Variation by Type of Firm

While the number of specialty trade contractors who are familiar with Lean but not implementing any Lean practices is too small to draw definitive conclusions, there is a clear trend for three factors to have a higher influence on trade contractors than on general contractors: greater productivity, improved safety and greater customer satisfaction.

Tweet: Which 3 factors are more likely to convince trade contractors to adopt #LeanCon practices? @Dassault3DS http://ctt.ec/94NyW+Tweet: “3 factors tend to sway #AEC trade contractors to
#LeanCon: productivity, safety, customer satisfaction”

Trade firms have a greater focus on individual workers in general, as is revealed in the in-depth interviews with Lean experts, which is why improved productivity and safety are particularly critical to them.

In addition, even more than general contractors, trade contractors frequently rely on their reputation and shared experience with general contractors to be selected for work. Building satisfaction among the general contractors is a strong way for them to become more competitive.

Tweet: The Benefits That Will Influence Non-Practitioners to Adopt #LeanCon Practices @Dassault3DS http://ctt.ec/bM6nY+Click to Tweet this article

 


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