PCB Design and Development Challenges for Medical Robots

March 20, 2019 , in Blog, Medical

One of the greatest marriages between words occurred on the day someone joined what and if. This simple union was made famous through a series of commercials by a well-known printer electronics company, Hewlett Packard. Much more importantly, this union has probably served as the catalyst for countless ideas and innovations. To add one more to the mix: “what if” you walked into your doctor’s office and a robot with a stethoscope greeted you? This sight, which may become commonplace in our not-too-distant future, would probably cause you to marvel at the inroads that have been made into the medical profession by robots. If this thought excites you, then you should be even more impressed by the medical robots of today.

Robot doctor

Believe it or not, it isn’t rare to use robots to perform tasks that promote or support good health in humans. The fact that machines can be used to perform actions faster and with more precision is the basis for our reliance on computers and industrial automation. And it should not be surprising that these advantages are being utilized in healthcare. However, all PCB development for medical devices must adhere to strict regulations and standards. Medical robots are no exception, although their typical applications make them a special class of product. Let’s take a look at the class of medical robots and the challenges to PCB design and development that accompany their use for health and wellness.

What are Medical Robots?

Medical robots are a subset of the larger group of medical devices as defined by the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Broadly, medical robots include any medical device that utilizes a robotic system or device to perform,  assist, or support an activity that contributes to the delivery of medical services. Some medical robots are standalone units and others work in conjunction with and under human supervision. Common medical robots in use today include those listed below.

Common Medical Robots

🤖 Surgery Assistants

These are typically remotely controlled robotic arms that assist surgeons by performing minimally invasive procedures or providing visual perspectives that are otherwise difficult to obtain.

🤖 Rehabilitation Assistants

To help persons recover physically and/or mentally from traumatic events, such as strokes, rehabilitation robots may be used to improve coordination, strength or mobility. These are also used to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities.

🤖 Remote Assistants

The ability to project their expertise to rural and remote locations providing what is known as telepresence is a rapidly expanding capability in medical care. This is possible by the deployment of robotic assistants to the actual patient location to collect and transmit information and visual data to a remotely located physician.

🤖 Delivery Systems

If you have been to a hospital recently, you have probably noticed what appears to be self-guided cabinets going back and forth. These are actually robot delivery systems distributing files, medications, and other items to needed locations throughout the facility.

🤖 Disinfectors

During the Ebola outbreak that ravaged portions of West Africa from 2014-2016, it was learned that even with significant precautions, medical personnel and caregivers could still become infected [1]. This and other events have led to the use of medical robots to clean and disinfect contaminated areas.

🤖 Prescription Dispensers

Leveraging the advantages of speed and accuracy that machines exhibit over humans has led to the use of robots to dispense medications in pharmacies.

The list above describes common activities for medical robots. We can expect even more advanced activities to become routine in the future.

Design and Development Challenges for PCBs Used in Medical Robots

The design and development of PCBs and electronics for medical robots must meet the standards for all medical devices. However, medical robots tend to be used in hazardous environments, remote locations, or for automated procedures. This autonomous or near-autonomous operation demands that attention be placed on the management of the design and development process. Therefore, the most significant challenges are in quality, risk, and supply chain management.

  • Quality Management

Quality management begins with the adoption and implementation of a quality management system that meets or exceeds the requirements of ISO 13485.

  • Risk Management

Managing risk is critical for medical robot PCB and electronics development. Not only must the stipulations of ISO 14971 be met, but gradual improvement must be eliminated as the failure of semi or fully autonomous systems are unacceptable.

  • Supply Chain Management

In addition to managing the process and execution of design and manufacturing, the components and devices that comprise the developed products must also be managed to ensure performance and avoid counterfeits.

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Tempo Automation, the industry leader in producing precise, high-quality PCBs for prototyping and low-volume production, is experienced in building and testing complex PCBs that enable you to bring predictability to your development cycle. We will work with you beginning from day 1 of design to optimize your PCB development experience and ensure its success in meeting your objectives.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on medical robots or the challenges they present for design and development, contact us.

[1] Sifferlin, Alexandra. “Ebola Doctor Recounts His Battle with the Virus in New Book,” TIME, July 21, 2015, http://time.com/3965989/ebola-survivor-brantly-book/.

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