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Articles from 2019 In January


Supplier Stories for the Week of January 27

Medbio Inc. announces the opening of a newly renovated 25,000-sq-ft facility adjacent to its current 65,000-sq-ft building. It will provide an additional 12,000 sq ft of cleanroom space and house the company’s medical device and diagnostic assembly and packaging operations. The company offers design and engineering, manufacturing, assembly, and packaging solutions for the medical and biotechnology industries.“Medbio has experienced strong and steady growth, driving the need for additional manufacturing capacity and cleanroom space,” said John Woodhouse, director of sales and marketing for Medbio, in a news statement. “Moving our assembly operations into the new facility allows us to significantly expand existing cleanroom space, enabling us to add several new molding presses.”The addition supports Medbio’s key strategic growth objectives, which include expanding production capabilities, improving operations, and being a high-growth leader in the marketplace, the company stated in the release. “Additionally, this expansion enhances our ability to better support our customers’ growth and provide the best service and lead times possible,” added Woodhouse.Medbio will be exhibiting in Booth #1838 at MD&M West 2019 February 5-7. [Image courtesy of MEDBIO INC.]Editor's Note: If you have news you’d like to submit for potential inclusion in future weekly roundups, please send a press release and any related images to daphne.allen@ubm.com with the subject line “Supplier Stories.”

A New Way to Model the Heart Valve

Pixabay A New Way to Model the Heart Valve

The mitral valve repair space just got a little less complicated due to research from a team of engineers from The University of Texas at Austin. The group has developed a new noninvasive technique for simulating repairs to the mitral valve, which they say has levels of accuracy reliable enough for use in a clinical setting.

The approach involves the use of computational modeling technology that could allow surgeons to provide patient-specific treatments. The engineers outlined their computational modeling technique for imaging mitral valve leaflets in recent issues of the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Biomedical Engineering and the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

"Heart valves are very difficult to study,” Michael Sacks, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, said in a release. “They are complex structures that move incredibly fast and are located inside the heart, making them extremely difficult to image. Our new computational model provides surgeons with a tool for the prediction of postsurgical outcomes from clinically obtained presurgical data alone."

The researchers said with the new predictive technique, surgeons won't have to take the previous one-size-fits-all approach to mitral valve leaflet repair. The team’s next step is to try and commercialize the technology.

GammaTile Therapy Gives Brain Tumor Patients Another Option

Pixabay GammaTile Therapy Gives Brain Tumor Patients Another Option

GT Medical Technologies has raised $10 million in a series A round led by Medtech Venture Partners with participation from BlueStone Venture Partners. The Tempe, AZ-based company has developed the Gamma Tile, a surgically targeted radiation therapy for patients with brain tumors.

The device was cleared by FDA in July of 28 and has had a limited market release. Proceeds from the financing will support the continued commercialization of the Gamma Tile.

“GammaTile Therapy was developed by a team of brain tumor specialists who were running out of options for their patients,” Matthew Likens, president and CEO of GT MedTech said in a release. “Their urgency to find a viable solution for these patients led to the creation of GammaTile Therapy, which is designed to be immediate, safe, predictable, and effective. With this funding, in addition to adding seasoned industry executives to our team, we look forward to building and expanding our commercialization efforts so that we can offer this new option to patients at brain tumor treatment centers across the U.S.”

The company said that about 400,000 patients in the U.S. are newly diagnosed with some type of brain tumor each year. Despite the efforts of the most skilled brain tumor specialists throughout the world, outcomes for patients with brain tumors have improved very little over the past 30 years. Recurrence of brain tumors is common, and about half of all patients treated for brain tumors have their disease recur within a year.

The device is placed directly at the site of the tumor after excision is complete and immediately begins targeting residual tumor cells before they can replicate. GammaTile to protect healthy brain tissue and facilitate rapid, accurate placement during the procedure, the therapy features a bioresorbable, conformable, 3D-collagen tile and uniform radiation source.

“GT MedTech’s innovative technology has the potential to significantly improve the lives of patients with brain tumors and their caregivers,” Mara Aspinall, co-founder and managing director of BlueStone Venture Partners, said in a release. “By taking part in this funding round and working alongside the Board of Directors, BlueStone Venture Partners hopes to help further advance GT MedTech’s vital technology.”

Real-World Data on Medtronic's Lung Cancer Device Is Promising

Medtronic plc Real-World Data on Medtronic's Lung Cancer Device Is Promising
Medtronic's superDimension navigation system enables physicians to take a GPS-like approach to access difficult-to-reach areas of the lung, which can aid in the diagnosis of lung disease and potentially lead to earlier, more personalized treatment.

Recently published results of a large, multicenter trial could go a long way toward boosting adoption of electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy (ENB) procedures using Medtronic's superDimension navigation system to aid in lung cancer diagnosis, staging, and treatment. The 12-month results of the NAVIGATE study were published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology.

"It's not enough anymore to just make a really amazing new technology, it has to be backed with clinical and economic evidence and one that allows really broad adoption around the globe to really impact as many patients as we can," Emily Elswick, vice president and general manager of lung health, which is part of the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group at Medtronic, told MD+DI.

ENB procedures provide a minimally invasive, GPS-like approach to access difficult-to-reach areas of the lung, which can aid in the diagnosis of lung disease and potentially lead to earlier, more personalized treatment. NAVIGATE enrolled patients at 37 sites in the United States and Europe. The Journal of Thoracic Oncology publication includes 12-month follow up for 1,215 patients at 29 U.S. medical centers.

Covidien, now part of Medtronic, bought superDimension in 2012 for $300 million. It wasn't long after becoming part of Medtronic that the Dublin, Ireland-based company realized the need to prove the value of the technology, thus launching the NAVIGATE study. The study is considered the largest prospective multicenter trial evaluating ENB procedures using the superDimension system. NAVIGATE included a key finding that 65% of patients diagnosed with primary lung cancer were at early stages of the disease. And of course, early detection is critical to increasing the long-term survival rate.

Making sure that anyone with the right training and support can do the procedure was a major factor in doing the NAVIGATE study.

There have been close to 100 prior studies evaluating the superDimension system, but all of those studies involved a small number of patients and the procedures were performed by highly qualified physicians primarily at academic centers, according to Erik Folch, MD, chief of the Complex Chest Disease Center and co-director of International Pulmonology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"So the criticism was, 'this doesn't apply to my patient, it doesn't apply to my setting," Folch, co-lead investigator of the NAVIGATE study, told MD+DI. "So we embarked on the first large prospective – looking forward, collecting all the information from the beginning – multicenter study in both the United States and Europe."

The NAVIGATE study included private practices, academic centers, and community hospitals, he said.

"We did not restrict physicians, we didn't tell them what to do we said 'just use the platform, tell us exactly what you did step by step, collect all the information and we will figure it out with these large numbers," Folch said. "We call this a pragmatic trial, instead of minimizing the generalization of the population and the people who can do it you just open it up and say 'let me see how things are being done in day-to-day practice."

The NAVIGATE study results showed the diagnostic yield of ENB (the proportion of patients who obtain an ENB-aided diagnosis) as supported by a one-year follow-up. The ENB procedure was successfully completed in 94% of study patients and an ENB-aided diagnosis was obtained in 73%. Compared to published diagnostic yields of 65% to 73% in previous small, single-center, and retrospective studies across different devices, the one-year diagnostic yield in NAVIGATE is consistent and generalizable across diverse operators.

A key finding in the NAVIGATE data was that 65% of patients diagnosed by physicians with primary lung cancer were in the early stages of the disease. With 49% of lesions less than 20 mm in diameter, NAVIGATE confirms that ENB is suitable for evaluating small peripheral lesions. The procedure had lower complication rates than previously published for transthoracic needle biopsies; specifically, pneumothorax (collapsed lung caused by injury to the lung wall) occurred in only 4.3% of NAVIGATE patients, which is lower than the 19% to 25% percent rates typically seen with transthoracic needle biopsies.

"Because we looked at all cases, not just those with easily accessible lesions-NAVIGATE replicates real-world conditions and demonstrates that ENB has the potential to significantly accelerate lung cancer detection, and consequently improve the likelihood of a successful intervention," Folch said.

The latest generation of ENB, the superDimension navigation system version 7.2 with fluoroscopic navigation technology, uses advanced software to enhance the visibility of lung lesions in real-time and aid in improved diagnostic accuracy. Medtronic recently launched a new prospective study evaluating this technology at two U.S. centers.

A third study, NAVABLATE, is designed to characterize the safety and performance of bronchoscopic thermal ablation using the Emprint ablation catheter kit with Thermosphere technology guided by the superDimension navigation system. The prospective, multi-center NAVABLATE study will be conducted in up to 30 patients globally.

The superDimension system has FDA 510(k) clearance in the United States, CE mark in Europe, and it has also been approved for use in numerous international markets including Japan, Korea, and China. The Emprint ablation catheter kit has CE mark only.

AMBA, MAPP invite PLASTEC West attendees to happy hour

 AMBA, MAPP invite PLASTEC West attendees to happy hour

BeerThe American Mold Builders Association (AMBA; Indianapolis) and the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP; Indianapolis) have announced  they are hosting a happy hour at the co-located PLASTEC West and Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West event on Feb. 6, 2019, from 3:30 to 5 PM. Mold builders and plastics processors will have an opportunity to connect and network over beer and other refreshments. The reception is sponsored by several AMBA partners and MAPP sponsors, including iD Additives, Hasco, Mueller Prost, Progressive Components and Sigma Plastic Services. The reception will take place at booths 803 and 805.

“Partnering with a trade show like PLASTEC West/MD&M West provides both AMBA and MAPP with an exciting opportunity to support an environment where we and others can learn more about the challenges and solutions available in our industries, while connecting and networking with other industry professionals,” said Troy Nix, AMBA and MAPP Executive Director.

MD&M West and PLASTEC West will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA, from Feb. 5 to 7, 2019.

Image courtesy magdal3na/Adobe Stock.

How the ‘slow revolution’ of 3D printing will advance in 2019

How the ‘slow revolution’ of 3D printing will advance in 2019

bioprinting synthetic bone

Additive manufacturing has made significant, albeit incremental, strides in the last couple of years, and what Materialise CEO Fried Vancraen has called the “slow revolution” will continue apace in 2019. To gauge where the technology will land in the year ahead and take stock of some of the challenges that remain, PlasticsToday spoke with Paul Benning, Senior Fellow and Chief Technologist, 3D Printing, at HP Inc. (Palo Alto, CA). Generative design, bioprinting and functional 3D-printed color parts are on his radar as areas to watch; material properties and seamless integration of 3D printing in the larger manufacturing environment are among the challenges that still need to be addressed.

Paul Benning, HP
Paul Benning, Senior Fellow and Chief Technologist, 3D Printing, HP Inc.

Generative design may sound like a buzzword, but don’t be deceived: The possibilities are pretty amazing. An “imperfect analogy” for a first step in the technology, said Benning, is autofill when you’re typing a text message. “Generative design brings significant automation to the design process. It looks ahead at your design intent and suggests ways to fill in your design. These are automation steps we see now,” said Benning.

As the technology is refined, engineers will be able to input the requirements of a part—mechanical, load and attachment points, for example—and a system embedded with machine learning and artificial intelligence will go wild with design variations until it evolves into the most lightweight and efficient design possible, said Benning. 3D printing can create designs and geometries that are not possible with other production techniques, and generative design takes that practice to an even higher level, suggesting alternatives that might not come to the mind of a design engineer. The automation that generative design brings to the process can be extremely helpful to the design engineering community, said Benning.

“People are trained into the injection molding process and metal fabrication—they know where the limits are,” said Benning. Not so with 3D printing, which has almost infinite design possibilities. “You’re not constrained by where you drill holes or the limits of injection molding. The extreme flexibility and the intricacy and complexity of design possibilities in 3D printing make it a more complex design space than we have been used to,” explained Benning. “To take full advantage of that, we will need tools like generative design and more automated environments.”

Bioprinting here and now

Bioprinting has made considerable advances in the past couple of years, but people have gotten carried away at times by the hype, trumpeting printed organs that can be transplanted into patients. That’s the holy grail, said Benning.

While functioning organs are beyond the horizon, we are able today to print “small, viable tissues, collections of cells that communicate with each other.” If you’re trying to figure out the impact of a new drug, “there are levels where you want to do that from basic small molecule interactions up to target molecules for a drug treatment with a biomolecule or protein and then into cellular interactions. That is where we end today at the microscope, and then jump into live animal studies,” said Benning. Small tissues are a whole new world where signaling pathways interact with each other. The richness of that environment gives R&D teams a much better system to study without having to do live animal studies. That is going on today,” said Benning.

The fluid manipulation and drop deposition that is at the core of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology is a good fit for life-science applications, added Benning. “At the lab level, we have printed viable cells and there are some interesting places we might land in the long term.” Printing livers or kidneys is not in the immediate future, but “simpler things like cartilage and sections of bladder have been printed and transplanted successfully into animals,” noted Benning. Printing functional organs is a long way from coming to fruition, although some real accomplishments are driving the technology forward, he added. The 3D printing applications that are most relevant today, according to Benning, encompass biocompatible materials for implantable applications, hearing aids and patient-specific devices.

The wonderful world of color

Functional color parts coming into the mainstream is one of the more general 3D-printing advances that we will see in the short term, said Benning. “That’s useful for aesthetics but, more importantly, it enables putting assembly instructions or wear indicators on a part. It’s easy to imagine putting UPC symbols or digital serial numbers on every single part. The ability to track production from raw materials to end of life is a significant advantage in a data-rich world,” said Benning.

He is also keeping an eye on core 3D-printing technologies. “As an industry, we have a pretty impressive set right now—Multi Jet Fusion, selective laser sintering, stereo-lithography and the rise of binder jet additive manufacturing like HP’s Metal Jet,” said Benning. Regarding the latter method, the productivity boost it imparts will drive growth in bringing 3D-printed metal parts to the market, said Benning.

While additive manufacturing is on a solid growth trajectory in the production space, it continues to wrestle with some challenges, including the breadth of compatible materials, the consistency and functionality of finished parts and the integration of the technology into the manufacturing environment writ large.

“We’re doing a good job on cost factors—runs of thousands to tens of thousands of parts, or more, are economically advantaged with Multi Jet Fusion right now,” said Benning. As Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing take hold, “data systems and automation will make core 3D printing technology a much more productive and valuable part of the manufacturing ecosystem,” he added.

As for materials, it’s true that we are looking at very different quantities—hundreds instead of the tens of thousands available for injection molding, Benning acknowledged. “But how different are these tens of thousands of plastics from each other?” he asks. “Can you get to the same place with a 3D printing material? For example, take a material with an added pigment for injection molding. HP has a color 3D printer coming out that lets you pick the color on the fly. You won’t need to add a different material. A benefit of 3D printing is that you may not need all of those materials to achieve your objective,” said Benning. Nevertheless, “we do have some interesting work ahead of us to bring more materials into the 3D-printing space,” he added.

Image courtesy iaremenko/Adobe Stock.

Stryker's Mako Sales Were 'Super Impressive' in Q4

Stryker Corp. Stryker's Mako Sales Were 'Super Impressive' in Q4

Stryker made the market wait for more than a year after FDA approval for the full commercial launch of its Mako total knee product, prompting us to wonder, at the time, if the robot would be worth the wait.

It's safe to say, after seeing the company's latest earnings report, that the answer is an unequivocal yes.

Katerine Owen, vice president of strategy and investor relations at Stryker, told investors Tuesday that Stryker installed a record 54 Mako robots globally during the fourth quarter, and that more than 40% of those installs were in competitive accounts. Geographically, Owen said the U.S. market led the way with 36 robots compared to 27 in prior years. Globally, the company now has 642 robots installed with 523 in the U.S., the majority of which have been upgraded to the Total Knee system, she said, according to Seeking Alpha transcripts of the earnings call.

Owen said the company certified roughly 250 surgeons on the Mako Total Knee during the quarter, bringing the total number of surgeons trained since launch to roughly 1,600. There were about 24,800 Mako robotic procedures performed in the United States during the quarter with the total number of procedures for 2018 topping 76,900. Owen said the number of Mako Total Knee procedures increased 35% from the previous quarter to about 15,500 and that knees represented roughly 60% of all Mako procedures performed in the United States in 2018.

Stryker also saw a continued uptick in utilization rates on the robots, which climbed more than 25% from the third quarter and was up 30% year-over-year. Owen said the ability to perform cementless Total Knee on the robot, which FDA approved during the fourth quarter of 2017, is helping to further drive cementless adoption. More than 30% of Stryker's Total Knee procedures are now cementless, Owen said.

"Combined, we believe these data underscore that Mako is undoubtedly a powerful marketing tool for hospitals that continued demand for the robot and steady acceleration in the utilization by surgeons is being driven more by the powerful clinical results and patient benefit," Owen said. "Looking ahead to 2019, we believe we are well-positioned to continue to drive Mako momentum as we exited the year with a healthy orders pipeline for the robot."

Judging by the number of Mako-related questions at the end of the call, it's safe to say analysts are impressed. Bank of America's Bob Hopkins even called the Mako numbers "super impressive" in terms of procedures and systems sold. Below, we've highlighted the most pressing questions analysts asked Stryker executives during the call.

Can Stryker's Knee Business Continue to Outpace the Market?

Owen said that all of the data points the company looks at to forecast market share including utilization rates, number of surgeons trained, and a strong pipeline of new orders are positive.

Yeah, Bob, that's fully our expectation. We've got, as we mentioned, the strong order book, the amount in clinical data, all the data points that we look to, whether it's utilization rates or growth in surgeons trained are all really positive.

"So we fully expect to continue to take meaningful market share. It's going to bounce quarter-to-quarter because the recon market bounces around," Owen said. "We were up against really tough comps in the U.S. this year and still, we have to wait for everybody to report but we think we grew by 100 basis points ahead of the market. So that's absolutely the expectation for this year."

CEO Kevin Lobo added that the company is still in the early stages of Mako growth as it has not even been two years since the full commercial launch.

"To exit the year over 30% is something that we feel very good about. And frankly, when a competitive surgeon switches, they're changing their implant to learning Mako, a lot of times the initial switch was cemented knees. And once they gain confidence and comfort with Mako, they will then move to cementless. So cementless still has significant runway and surgeons are really, really pleased with the results they're seeing with their patients. And that's what's causing the extra uptick. So we believe 2019 will be another year of strong above-market performances in knees."

Some hospitals have already bought second robots, Owen noted, which she said speaks to the mounting benefits that the entire surgeon group sees.

What About the Increasing Competitiveness of Robotics?

"We've been running pretty consistently north of 40% in competitive accounts. It did jump to over 50% last quarter. But if you look back, as we've reported that number each quarter, it's typically hovered between 40% and 50%," Owen said. "I think we're just going to have to wait and see how it plays out with comparative launches. We haven't been through this before."

She noted that Stryker is comfortable with the number of hospitals available to the company, the clinical data on Mako, and the unique features of the robot. But the company is well aware of the competitive landscape.

"What the mix ends up looking like, will probably move around, but clearly competitive accounts are going to be part of it," Owen said.

Lobo said additional competition in the market is not necessarily a bad thing though.

"If you believe you have a proven system that really delivers terrific value, we would welcome a head-to-head comparison," Lobo said.

The CEO also noted that some hospitals that previously were not open to discussing robots may come around as the market changes.

"The whole dialogue about robotics is everywhere," Lobo said. "They are here to stay. And I think more interest in robotics will frankly provide a tailwind in the market and a tailwind for our Mako business."

What Happens After Gaining Competitive Accounts?

Joanne Wuensch, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, asked the executives how sticky the competitive accounts are once Stryker gets in with Mako.

"It’s pretty sticky, Joanne," Owen said. "We grow by multiple factors faster in the accounts that have a Mako system because, well, first of all, the system is closed. But then the sales force has the opportunity to go in and sell the entire portfolio and benefiting from a new hip they can go in and sell, plus our various 3D-printed products around the knee systems."

In other words, once Stryker sells the robot to a competitive account, that sale is likely to spur sales across the portfolio of reconstructive products.

What About Mako Hips?

Kyle Rose, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, asked how much of an opportunity is there for Mako on the hip side.

Owen said Mako hips are indeed trailing behind Mako knees. 

"We always knew or believed that the biggest driver of the Mako adoption was going to be around the Total Knee given the unmet need and patient dissatisfaction rates," she said. "But we continue to see increases on the hip side as well and that's part the benefit of once you get into an account and you can sell the totality of the offering and the surgeons start to see some of the benefits. So I think knees, given the 60% of the procedures, will still dominate, but absolutely we'll see an impact from hips."

Ekso Bionics Steps Up to Develop Exoskeleton Market in Asia

Ekso Bionics Holdings Inc. Ekso Bionics Steps Up to Develop Exoskeleton Market in Asia
Ekso Bionics develops exoskeleton technology for stroke and spinal cord injury rehabilitation. 

China is expected to have 30 million stroke patients by 2030, and many of those patients will have some degree of disability. And yet, the stroke and spinal cord rehabilitation industry in China is not as developed as it is in the United States. A new joint venture between Ekso Bionics, Zhejiang Youchuang Venture Capital Investment (ZYVC) and Zhejiang Silicon Paradise Asset Management Group could change that.

"This joint venture is a transformative opportunity both for Ekso Bionics and for the millions of Chinese stroke and spinal cord injury patients who currently have limited access to advanced rehabilitation technologies," said Jack Peurach, president and CEO of Ekso Bionics. "This joint venture positions us to become the leader in both medical and industrial exoskeletons in China.”

The joint venture is designed to both develop and serve the exoskeleton market in China and other parts of Asia and to create a global exoskeleton manufacturing center. The JV will develop, sell, and support exoskeleton products into China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, and will be capitalized at greater than $100 million over its term. Richmond, CA-based Ekso Bionics will license its manufacturing technology and contribute its relevant Chinese patent rights to the joint venture in exchange for a 20% ownership position, with the other partners committing more than $90 million in cash.

As part of the agreement, subject to certain conditions, Ekso Bionics will receive royalties on the  joint venture’s medical and industrial product sales in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. ZYVC and its related parties will also make an equity investment of $10 million in Ekso Bionics, of which $5 million is being invested now and the remaining $5 million will be invested after the joint venture begins shipping products. A portion of the joint venture capital will be used to construct a manufacturing facility in Zhejiang.

Gaining access to the world’s largest market for stroke rehabilitation services is expected to expand Ekso's revenue opportunities while providing economics of scale that will accrue to its current markets and support profitable expansion into other developing markets. The joint venture’s manufacturing facility, which will be purpose-built to manufacture the component parts of Ekso Bionics’ products at scale, is expected to also improve the company’s profit margins. The company expects that these benefits will help it attain its long-term growth objectives while furthering its mission to protect and enhance mobility for millions of rehabilitation patients and industrial workers worldwide.

Why manufacturing needs augmented reality

Why manufacturing needs augmented reality

Augmented reality in the workplace

Remember Glass? When Google introduced its augmented reality (AR) eyewear, the initial excitement faded into disdain for early adopters, who earned a memorable nickname: Glassholes. The user affectation, as well as the cost and paucity of reasons to actually use them in nature, doomed AR wearables in the consumer electronics space, at least for now. But that changes if you look to the factory or shop floor, writes Jake Swearingen in the Intelligencer section of New York magazine. “In such settings, augmented-reality smart glasses are already being deployed across a wide swath of industries.” Scott Montgomerie, CEO and co-founder of Scope AR (San Francisco, CA), was an early advocate of AR in the manufacturing space and has played a key role in its adoption at companies such as Lockheed Martin and GE. He will speak to his experience at the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Summit during the co-located PLASTEC West and Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West event in Anaheim, CA, on Feb. 5 to 7, 2019. In advance of the event, he shared some perspectives on the technology with PlasticsToday.

The eureka moment regarding AR opportunities in manufacturing came to Montgomerie at a mining convention in Las Vegas. “We began playing around with AR in 2012, when a big mining company came to Scope AR, asking if our technology could be used for training. We did a proof of concept, which went really well, and the company asked us to bring it to a trade show in Las Vegas later that year.” The demo was an instant hit, with a constant stream of attendees telling Montgomerie and his colleagues that it was “the coolest thing” at the show. “And we were, like, really? Because those giant mining trucks with wheels bigger than your living room looked really cool to us!” recalled Montgomerie. Nevertheless, the die was cast. Scope AR started getting contracts from the likes of Toyota, Boeing and NASA. By 2015, “we decided that this platform was going to scale and there needed to be an easy way to create instructions and interact,” said Montgomerie.

Scope AR’s WorkLink allows users with no prior coding skills to create rich AR smart instructions that automatically collect data and provide actionable insights, which can be deployed globally through an app. Instead of rifling through paper instructions, users are immersed in computer-generated 3D imagery that overlays on top of the real world, explains the company on its website. The software is platform agnostic—"we want people to be able to use the technology they feel comfortable with," explained Montgomerie—and is also the first authoring system to provide full support for Microsoft’s HoloLens system. The company also offers Remote AR, which allows a worker to collaborate remotely with an expert, both of whom are seeing the same thing as if they were standing side by side. The possibilities and efficiencies that can be achieved are head spinning.

Using a HoloLens, for example, instructions can be overlaid on a part or piece of equipment using 3D models to perform maintenance or assemble a part, explained Montgomerie. Human error is dramatically reduced and efficiency skyrockets. Montgomerie cites Unilever, which reported an astonishing return on investment of more than 1,700%, and Lockheed Martin, which reduced manufacturing time by 50%.

“I’m particularly fond of the Lockheed Martin use case, which involves the space shuttle,” Montgomerie told PlasticsToday. It is making a “capsule with 3000 fasteners that need to be tightened. The old way of doing it was to paw through a 3000-page binder, look up the table, find the fastener in question, look up the torque setting, crawl into a tight space to get to the fastener, set the torque, do quality assurance to verify it was tightened properly, and rinse and repeat 3000 times,” said Montgomerie. “Our AR technology shows the technician where the fastener is and on top of that displays the torque setting. Productivity was improved by 50%,” said Montgomerie.

If the task is more complex and requires expert assistance, Remote AR offers a time-saving solution. “Suppose you have a part that doesn’t fit and you need to reach out to a manufacturing engineer or even the OEM,” explained Montgomerie. To help out, typically the expert would have to physically come to the shop floor. That could take days in some cases. With our technology, they can communicate over video in real time and real space across synchronized devices.”

Employee training is another area where AR is revolutionizing processes in organizations as disparate as the U.S. military and Walmart. Writing in Forbes, AR and virtual reality entrepreneur Lorne Fade notes that Microsoft has made a $480 million deal with the U.S. Army to train troops for complex, dangerous real-world situations via AR and that Walmart has partnered with Oculus and Strivr to teach personnel internal processes in an immersive AR-enabled way. For Montgomerie, AR technology may even represent a partial solution to the skills gap.

“It takes a lot of time to gain expertise—10,000 hours, right? What if you could receive instructions that are so intuitive that you wouldn’t have to memorize them?” said Montgomerie. “You can store tons of information on the internet and then you become the actuator.”

The skills gap is heightened as baby boomers retire en masse. “All of that knowledge is literally walking out the door,” said Montgomerie. “A feature that we are working on is the capability of recording interactions. As the technician is receiving instructions from an expert, the video, audio and 3D adaptation, on a separate channel, are being recorded. Later, you can go back and replay that interaction on top of that piece of equipment.” When the expert retires, his knowledge stays with the company and continues to educate young workers.

The power of AR in these scenarios and countless others resides in the richness of the communication channel. “The user interface allows you to communicate in a much more natural way. Now we’re interacting with real and virtual objects in a real world setting and that neatly solves so many problems that stem from a misinterpretation of instructions. Montgomerie cites an example that almost everyone on the planet can relate to: Assembling Ikea furniture.

“An expert attempts to communicate through diagrams, but the technician, or consumer in this example, misunderstands those instructions and uses the wrong fastener or beam. With AR, you can see the pieces overlaid on top of the furniture in 3D, and you will certainly make fewer mistakes. Through that form of communication, you viscerally understand what you need to do versus trying to interpret instructions,” said Montgomerie.

And that's the crux of it: Whether you're assembling a Dagstorp sofa or tightening screws on a space shuttle component, AR reduces human error and accelerates the process. No wonder that the AR market is forecast to grow at 75% CAGR through 2024, exceeding $50 billion by 2024, according to Market Study Report LLC.

Montgomerie will lead a discussion devoted to modernizing manufacturing with augmented reality at the co-located Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West and PLASTEC West event in Anaheim, CA. The presentation, scheduled for Feb. 7 at 10:15 AM, is part of the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Summit. MD&M West and PLASTEC West will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center from Feb. 5 to 7, 2019.

Image courtesy flipper1971/Adobe Stock.

Toyota-Panasonic Partnership Could Fuel Gradual Growth of BEVs

The Toyota-Panasonic battery partnership announced last week is a clear sign that the giant Japanese automaker is joining the ranks of other mainstream manufacturers who are moving gradually toward battery-electric vehicles.

The announcement calls for the formation of a new battery company, 51%-owned by Toyota Motor Corp. and 49%-owned by Panasonic Corp. The new company would build prismatic cells for use in hybrids (HEVs), plug-in- hybrids (PHEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).

Industry analysts said that the partnership is a sign that Toyota is moving toward pure electrification in a bigger way. “With market forces pushing them in that direction in Europe and China, and to a lesser extent, in the US, they know they have to get more volume in zero-emission vehicles,” noted Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for Navigant Research. “So, yes, they’re definitely making a bigger push into plug-in vehicles in the next few years.”

A new battery company, owned jointly by Toyota and Panasonic, will provide prismatic cells for Toyota’s hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric vehicles. (Image source: Toyota Motor Corp.)

The news is significant because many have questioned whether Toyota is serious about full electrification. In the past, the company has said it prefers to place its electrification bets on hydrogen fuel cells, believing that range anxiety and long-recharge times were holding back the success of battery-electric cars.

Last week’s news, however, suggests that Toyota may be changing its mind about the capabilities of plug-in cars and BEVs. News reports in Asia have indicated that Panasonic will shift five of its production facilities in Japan and China to the new venture. “Toyota is taking a 51% ownership of those five plants,” Abuelsamid said. “So they are clearly very committed to having more battery manufacturing capability going forward.”

Abuelsamid said the new partnership is an extension of a relationship that Toyota and Panasonic have had in place since 1997 for the production of batteries for the Prius hybrid. By expanding on that relationship, he said, Toyota could build bigger batteries for plug-in hybrids and, ultimately, BEVs.

The announcement is consistent with statements the automaker made in December, 2017. Back then, it declared that it aims to have sales of more than 5.5 million electrified vehicles, including more than 1 million zero-emission vehicles, in the form of BEVs and fuel-cell vehicles, by 2030.

During the past two years, other mainstream have moved ahead of Toyota in terms of planned production of BEVs. Ford Motor Co. is investing $11 billion in 40 new electrified vehicles; General Motors is planning to spin more battery-powered cars off its Bolt platform; and Volkswagen has selected 16 production sites around the world to build electric cars. Moreover, Kia, Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW have announced plans for electric car introductions in the next year or so.

Even among those companies, however, production volume remains as the wild card, Abuelsamid said. Toyota will be no different in that regard, even with the new battery partnership, he added. As such, he expects the numbers of plug-in hybrids and BEVs from Toyota in the next few years to grow gradually, not dramatically.

“BEVs are still a tiny fraction of the market, and most manufacturers are reluctant to over-commit to EV production,” he said. “The market is still not absorbing these cars, and the last thing they want is a bunch of excess capacity.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 35 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

 

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