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Trends in Medical Electronics Design and Miniaturization

Trends in Medical Electronics Design and Miniaturization
Embedded component assemblies are helping medical device designers bring down the size of their products.   

Embedded component assemblies are helping medical device designers bring down the size of their products.

Andy Schimmoeller and Jeffrey Friend

 
In embedded component assemblies like the one shown above, both active and passive components can be placed inside the board.

As healthcare progresses and the individual’s drive to better understand their health overall increases, companies are also striving to miniaturize medical devices and electronics so they become “invisible” to the individual. Companies are focused on the miniaturization of products to continue to meet the ever-increasing demand for smaller, wearable medical devices. There are multiple options available for miniaturization in the market, such as using technology like application specific itegrated circuits (ASIC) devices, the more recent use of 3-D printed electronics, and electronic embedded component assemblies using both active and passive components.

Furthermore, there are functional devices with sensing capabilities using embedded active and passive electronic components. In addition to sensing devices, the technology can be used for neurological stimulation and drug delivery. The decision to design with embedded component assemblies is driven primarily by the many benefits gained in a smaller, more efficient, and compact package.

Embedded component assemblies are constructed similar to traditional circuit boards. However, by using specialized development and manufacturing processes, both active components (like microprocessors) and passive components (like capacitors and resistors) can be place inside the board instead of only on the surface.

Embedded assemblies offer similar benefits of the much more costly ASIC devices while allowing a much shorter design cycle. An embedded component assembly can be developed on a faster schedule and with lower nonrecurring engineering than an ASIC. In addition, there is more flexibility in the design process as embedded component assemblies can also be revised much more easily, cheaply, and faster than ASIC. The end result using embedded component assembly instead of an ASIC is a faster time to market while still achieving a miniaturized product.

Besides size reduction, there are also several performance benefits over a conventional printed circuit board (PCB) assembly. The high-density placement of components and circuit trace routing allow for shorter signal paths for higher speed devices, which better protects critical signals. With the ability to place components inside the circuit board, more complete shielding can be integrated into the design, offering increased electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility benefits for protection against unwanted interference. Additionally, there is potential intellectual property protection of circuitry in the product due to the embedding the components. We have found that many of the components used for embedding are readily available from standard sources. Industry studies show that overall production costs can be less than designs with standard conventional PCB assemblies due to the smaller size and overall packaging needs.

There continues to be an increased industry interest in embedding components to achieve miniaturization. A functional wearable wireless sensor has already been prototyped implementing embedded component assemblies, and we believe that in the near future many more opportunities to implement this technology will present themselves in medical devices.

Learn how flexible electronics are revolutionizing medical device design at the MD&M Philadlephia conference, October 7–8.

Andy Schimmoeller is a principal electrical engineer and project manager at Battelle.

Jeffrey Friend is a lead electrical engineering designer at Battelle.

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