For example, a digital healthcare company in California has designed an ingestible tablet embedded with a sensor the size of a grain of salt. The sensor is paired with a wearable transmitter the size of a Band-Aid to detect medication intake and physiological data. The information is then transmitted to a patient’s smartphone.
With this technology, healthcare providers and their patients can access reliable data quickly and conveniently without disrupting the daily routines of the patients. In addition, with the smartphone acting as a reminder, patients can better follow their medication instructions.
Developing such groundbreaking technologies naturally requires overcoming some unprecedented challenges for OEMs.
First and foremost is the type of knowledge required. In the case of this digital healthcare company, its researchers and engineers are specialists in medical sciences—not manufacturing. They need a strategic partner to help guide them through the complex processes to turn their prototype into a viable product for the market.
Secondly, apart from components, OEMs also need to work with unfamiliar materials. For example, miniaturized wearable devices require specialized design components to ensure the device is sweat resistant and waterproof. They also have to meet health-and-safety-related requirements. These requirements are outside the realm of the design and manufacturing of typical medical devices such as an ultrasound machine. Wearable medical devices also need to be small, easy to use, and can withstand any regular movements a person may have.
Other primary concerns include the logistics and economics of manufacturing these types of new products. Many of these miniaturized devices are promising but they are still new to the market. Initial demands likely will be small before a wide adoption can be expected. As such, OEMs need to have the ability to cost-effectively produce such complex devices in small volumes.
Having the right equipment, the processes and the ability to source new materials and components all become equally daunting as designing the devices.
The good news is that OEMs do not have to do it all. A strategic partner with broad and deep experiences in servicing different industry sectors can bring a lot of viable solutions to take these innovative devices to market efficiently and cost-effectively.
"The miniaturization of devices is a nascent but promising trend. Consumer products have already been leading the charge in this area with much success."
For example, Celestica, is currently partnering with an OEM to produce a wearable electronics monitoring system. That company is responsible for assuring the design of the device for manufacturing and testing (DFM and DFT), while Celestica selected and tested tapes and adhesives for the new product and managed the necessary processes to take the product to the current final stages of product qualification, which will be followed by high-volume production.
By relying on the global supply chain, the design and engineering knowledge and the manufacturing capabilities of its partner, this OEM kept its focus and resources on perfecting and innovating in the area of miniaturization.
For a partnership between an OEM and its strategic partner to work, it may often require an adjustment on how partnerships are formed. The traditional OEM–vendor relationship is no longer adequate because many complex issues need to be considered right at the design and prototyping phase of the product. The cost and availability of components, the durability of materials, even down to the packaging need to be considered at the early stage. To uncover compatibility of components, supply chain or logistical issues at the manufacturing stage will significantly affect the go-to market costs and/or timeline. By involving a strategic partner early in the concept and design process, time to market can be shortened, and ultimately a better, lower-cost product can be achieved.
The miniaturization of devices is a nascent but promising trend. Consumer products have already been leading the charge in this area with much success. OEMs that recognize the value of partnerships are poised to embrace a new frontier in patient care.
Simin Bagheri, M.A.Sc., P.Eng. is the customer engagement lead for the engineering services division at Celestica Healthtech.