Keeping Pace With Technology Vital To Medical Instrumentation

June 16, 2003
The design of diagnostic instrumentation for the medical electronics market, particularly for the fields of gene and protein research, is a challenging and exciting endeavor. It puts engineering skills to the test. Designers must deal with electronic...

The design of diagnostic instrumentation for the medical electronics market, particularly for the fields of gene and protein research, is a challenging and exciting endeavor. It puts engineering skills to the test. Designers must deal with electronic circuits as well as optical types. Software is also important.

Various considerations like temperature, fluid, motion control, safety, and environmental concerns must all be integrated within a design that's optimized for throughput, physical size, reliability, serviceability, and end-user cost. Time-to-market also remains a critical factor; so many technology companies are trying to get into the diagnostic market.

Electro-optics is central to most of the systems, given that the amount of detectable light energy is small and minimizing or eliminating background signals is critical. This requires the collaboration of chemistries, optics, and signal processing to make a robust and reliable product for the medical market. The FDA requires Risks Assessment Analysis, FMEA reports, and other fail-safe scenarios to ensure the safety of the public. You must make the product perform the same way every time. This requires a group of design engineers that stay current with technology.

Another key design element is signal interference that can come from within or outside the instrument. We use optical isolation to eliminate spikes from solenoids, motors, valves, and other parts that can affect circuits. Component selection, isolation, and protection are crucial design elements for complex medical-instrumentation-type products. Finally, medical electronics requires a very high level of documentation and control. Alternative components must obtain formal approval before being used in a product.

Yesterday's components are being challenged by the need to drive cost down, which usually also means smaller "everything." Smaller volumes of chemistries and smaller disposables allow for higher-density platforms with a smaller footprint and less waste material. This ultimately produces higher-throughput systems that have lower cost per result.

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