Originally Published MDDI October 2005
By Erik Swain
When medical device engineers come upon an obstacle, they are usually pretty good about figuring out a solution on their own. When that's not possible, chances are they're going to want advice from people who can give them an objective opinion and not a sales pitch. Several online discussion boards are providing forums for exactly that reason.
Minneapolis-based component manufacturer Minco set up a community, Let's Talk E2E, to provide a way for customers to seek help from each other in an informal, low-pressure environment. "It's not just the manufacturer talking; engineers don't like that," says Mary Rapaport, Minco's global marketing director.
"But engineers communicating with engineers can be a critical piece to solving a problem. They might get to hear what worked and what didn't in a similar situation. If we can set up those kinds of conversations, we are helping the marketplace."
The E2E forums, which can be found at www.minco.com/community/forums, are segregated by industry. The top forum on the page is devoted to medical diagnostic equipment and implant devices.
"There has been a lot of research done on the ways the Internet can help design engineers," says Rapaport. "Research shows it's a good place for them to learn. They value chat rooms, bulletin boards, blogs, and other places where they can see people's opinions. The ability to have frank discussions not colored by marketing is a trend."
The discussion-board format is best geared toward general how-to issues, however. It is not usually the right format for specific questions that might reveal proprietary information, and Minco does not encourage those kinds of discussions. When a topic heads in that direction, Minco personnel recommend that the user have a one-on-one chat with an expert, Rapaport says. "There's a difference between solving a specific problem and talking about general strengths or concepts about how to tackle a problem," she explains.
Similar, but more diverse, are the discussion groups at Medical Device Link, a sister entity to MD&DI. They can be found at www.devicelink.com/cgi/dcforum/dcboard.cgi. Free registration is required before use.
Rather than one board for all device issues, the discussion groups are divided into specific areas of device manufacturing. One board offers help in finding materials, components, services, and equipment. Another focuses on career opportunities. Discussions of specific topics such as materials, sterilization, motors, and tubing are separated into individual boards. Other groups are designed to delve into disciplines such as regulatory affairs, human factors, and validation.
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