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Augmented Reality Improves Medical Device Manufacturing Outcomes

With ever increasing part variation and liability at stake in medical device manufacturing, augmented reality technology can help improve quality, increase productivity, and ensure training effectiveness.

Paul Ryznar

An OPS Solutions machine vision engineer assembles clips on an automotive OEM bumper using Light Guide Systems. 

With the nation’s aging Baby Boomer generation and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that the medical and medical device manufacturing industries are undergoing large scale challenges and changes. Patient needs and market demands for efficiency, quality, and cost are driving processes for medical device manufacturing on an unprecedented scale. As manufacturers face an increasing need for customization and part variation, they are now looking for new assembly solutions, including augmented reality technology favored by automotive manufacturers.

Ryznar

Augmented reality is a practical, useful tool that is already at work on factory floors around the country and world. A great deal of augmented reality tech is designed to enhance the manufacturing and assembly processes that are crucial to automotive and that have vast applications in the medical device manufacturing field. The concept is simple, but its potential uses are huge: Augmented reality puts the right information in the right place, at the right time, in a way that is not possible through paper or monitor-based work instructions.

One use of augmented reality technology can remove the need for written work instructions by projecting a digital operating “canvas” directly onto almost any work surface, providing medical professionals with audio and visual prompts, guidance, pacing, and direction. It also provides users with automatic confirmation that each step has been completed correctly, ensuring a high-quality and error-free final product. It’s just one example of the power of augmented reality in manual assembly and manufacturing.

Right now, we’re also seeing lean manufacturing and continuous improvement methodology developed for the manufacturing space being used to ensure that a wide variety of medical manufacturing and even hospital processes are done correctly every time. The element of quality and “mission critical” manufacturing takes on even greater significance in the medical field. Quality is certainly important in all types of manufacturing, but with medical devices, you are not just saving time and dollars; you could be saving lives.

A common challenge for automotive manufacturers is the high degree of variation between similar components needed to assemble a vehicle. The differences in the parts are often subtle but have a large impact on functionality and can translate into costly mistakes when mislabeled or misidentified. This issue is also crucial for the assembly of medical devices, many of which are very complicated and have an even greater degree of variation. For example, knee and hip implants are designed for the human body and need to be precisely fitted to each patient. According to Health Affairs, medical mistakes cost 200,000 lives and more than $700 billion each year, and the liability for a defective device can be incredible.

Anyone with experience in quality control can tell you that it is too late for errors to be fixed after the fact. They need to be prevented on the factory floor by simplifying processes, using visual cues, and securing confirmation that each step has occurred properly. An augmented reality system can allow for flexibility in manufacturing and assembly without the added risk for error.

Taking the concept a step further, augmented reality tech has the ability to streamline and error-proof processes, create digital “birth certificates” and detailed process data for each part built to maximize traceability, help identify bottlenecks and other challenges, and improve worker productivity. This auto-driven technology has capabilities that are applicable to not only manual assembly processes, but can improve and streamline training and tasks in the hospital environment as well.

By providing clear guides and prompts, augmented reality technology can greatly reduce training gaps and free up high-level supervisors or trainers for more meaningful work. In life sciences environments, for example, senior staff often end up setting up cultures—a task that does not require their expertise but must be completed exactly right every time. With an augmented reality guidance system in place, a low-cost technician can perform the culture preparation tasks perfectly each time. In the same manner, augmented reality tech has the potential to improve any number of tasks, such as ensuring that endoscopes are cleaned properly or that surgical instruments are laid out in the correct manner.

As new directives and regulations continue to take hold in the medical and medical device manufacturing industries, systems that can keep pace with innovation, reduce errors, and increase product quality are crucial. New and targeted technologies such as augmented reality that can streamline processes and drive efficiency have the potential to vastly reduce liability and improve medical device manufacturing outcomes.

Learn about other trends in medtech manufacturing at the MD&M West conference and expo, February 9-11, 2016, in Anaheim, CA

 

Paul Ryznar is the founder, president, and CEO of OPS Solutions. The company’s augmented reality Light Guide Systems use proprietary software and high-powered projector systems to guide and confirm completion of complex tasks. 

[image courtesy of OPS SOLUTIONS]

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