COM cases show longer medical device life expectancy

Computers-On-Modules afford economic flexibility and future-proofing capability for medical devices.

3Like many other industries, health care has become much more agile as practitioners have tried to keep expenses under control. Smaller, more portable devices now enable more efficient and economical diagnostic and treatment procedures to be delivered at the patient’s bedside. Computers-On-Modules (COMs) are helping provide the portability, computing power, and integration needed to increase the longevity of medical device designs.

Electronic device manufacturers are increasingly using Computers-On-Modules (COMs) to produce compact, portable, and easily modified solutions for health care. In addition to smaller solutions, COMs enable longer product life, which is particularly desirable in medical equipment. One reason for this is the stringent and expensive certification process medical devices go through as mandated by the FDA. Furthermore, successful products often become industry standards that medical technicians must learn and adhere to.

By definition, COM designs are modular. The COM approach for embedded technology enables a medical solution’s processing power to be easily updated or upgraded while the physical dimensions and mounting system remain exactly the same. This allows the appearance of the industrial design to stay consistent with market expectations while providing for any needed upgrades. If a particular processor is reaching End-Of-Life (EOL), a module with a current processor can be introduced.

With COMs, the processor and supporting features are placed on a compact module that comprises a complete computer. The I/O for the system and the unique features that differentiate the customer’s product are included on a separate baseboard. Processor upgrades can be made by utilizing different processing modules that mate with the baseboard. This enables easy processor upgrades, plus various modules can be offered spanning a range of performance levels.

Other benefits of COM use in medical device designs include:

  • Fast time time to market
  • Simplified development
  • Easy modification of popular products
  • Easier life-cycle extension

Many medical devices are cart-based to provide point-of-care diagnosis and treatment. COMs with the latest processors and features such as onboard graphics and GbE LAN capability enable fast transmission to remote terminals or centralized storage. LAN capabilities and standard x86-based solutions help meet the need for information integration with centralized patient records, a key concern in health care.

Medical application examples

COM suppliers can meet the technological needs of medical devices by designing from the ground up, modifying reference designs, and retrofitting newer technology into existing embedded designs to prolong their life. Generally, OEM customers maintain responsibility for the industry certification process. This is because health care certification requires special expertise and is more of a lifeblood issue for health care companies than for those in other industries.

Case study #1: Blood-gas analyzer

A large medical device manufacturer wanted to go to market with a comprehensive yet easy-to-operate blood-gas analyzer. One key goal was long product life. The company selected the COM approach as a way to enable easy processor upgrades and virtually future-proof the product.

The manufacturer chose WIN Enterprises’ MB-90140 module (Figure 1) as the core of the hardware. The module features the embedded version of the Intel Celeron M processor to meet production requirements long into the future. The board also offers CRT, LVDS, LAN, and audio support.

Figure 1: The MB-90140 SOM ETX module, shown here mounted on its baseboard, is equipped with the low-voltage Intel Pentium M/Celeron M processor and offers support for CRT, LVDS, LAN, and audio capabilities.
(Click graphic to zoom by 1.9x)

Case study #2: DNA duplication and research

Another medical device manufacturer needed to update a market-proven solution for DNA duplication and study. Due to the product’s existing market acceptance, the manufacturer chose not to redesign its external packaging, but instead, opted to retrofit its core electronics to increase its longevity. In a custom design, WIN Enterprises introduced a new processor and redesigned the circuitry of the old board, reducing the number of boards to two to provide better manufacturing economy.

As in the previous example, the product life cycle was managed through the pre-purchase of the key components over the solution’s planned life. Along with the hardware improvements, the manufacturer has continually evolved the product’s user interface and software features to maintain its popularity and market position.

Case study #3: Laser cosmetic treatment system

A medical OEM marketing a broad line of laser systems used for a range of non-invasive cosmetic treatments needed a custom ETX module that mated with the company’s existing baseboard. The ETX module is a variant of the same module used in the blood-gas analyzer application, but with a Pentium M processor. The module supports VGA, LVDS, LAN, SATA, audio, and solid-state disk. As in the first case, a custom baseboard was designed to provide easy future upgrades.

The OEM is currently transitioning to a new design based on the Intel Atom Pineview processor. The goal is to reduce the design impact on the baseboard design during the transition.

Savvy future-proof designs

Although it is one of the few steadily growing industries, health care is still budget-conscious, as are its suppliers. This requires portable, economical, and proven solutions. Once accepted by the health care industry, designs enjoy very long life spans. Medical equipment OEMs must, therefore, select partners that can carefully manage the product life cycle. OEMs and their ODM partners must be savvy enough to future-proof products from the design perspective. The COM design approach helps meet these concerns by enabling existing, proven medical devices to be easily updated.

ECD in 2D: WIN Enterprises’ MB-80100 board can be used in medical devices to power high-end graphics and other intense applications. Use your smartphone, scan this code, watch a video:
(Click graphic to zoom)

Chiman Patel is the founder, CEO, and CTO of WIN Enterprises and a pioneer in the design and manufacture of x86-based products for the embedded industry. He holds two patents and is a charter member of TiE-Boston, a nonprofit Massachusetts organization with a mission to foster and support entrepreneurship.

WIN Enterprises