Smarter fluidic solutions

23rd May 2017

Smarter fluidic solutions ensure a bright future for the life science sector, explains Steve O’Reilly

For those organisations and businesses working in some of the most performance-critical sectors, where projects have no room for error, it is essential for suppliers to be able to provide technically advanced product solutions. Life science is a sector where technology is being developed with the sole purpose of helping people get more out of life. Making this possible behind the scenes is a vast array of miniature fluidic components and system solutions that play a vital role in the world’s medical and analytical instrumentation.

Clinical diagnostics, laboratory and research instruments are crucial in healthcare and give physicians the day-to-day data they need to make informed decisions regarding an individual patient’s health. It’s thought that around 70% of medical decisions are influenced by the results these instruments generate; producing totally reliable, top quality equipment can literally be life-changing.

Responding to the demands of life science device makers for simplified and compact instrument designs, Parker’s Fluidic Solutions business unit specialises in producing miniature, low-power, lightweight, high-performance fluid control systems. Device makers frequently also express their preference for single-source suppliers, ideally with high levels of expertise in system integration. Among the key benefits of this approach are reduced technical risk, lower development costs and a shortened design cycle.

There are some key ways in which experienced fluid control suppliers can support medical device manufacturers.

Weight reduction without compromising performance

To meet market demand and stay ahead of their own competition, medical device manufacturers must look to reduce the size and weight of the equipment they produce. Working with the right supplier this can lead to improved efficiency and lower total cost of ownership, without compromising on performance. Weight savings can be made in a number of ways, the most obvious being through utilisation of alternative lightweight materials. In conjunction with advanced manufacturing techniques the overall footprint can be minimised.

Another approach is to reduce the number of components involved. A lot of systems can be over-specified leading to unnecessary weight. Through good system design and by integrating functionality, the number of individual components (and their size) can be reduced dramatically. 

Optimising the circuit designs

Instead of designing fluidic systems in-house, partnering with a fluidic systems specialist can ensure the optimal solution is achieved. The key to designing any new device is early involvement and close engagement between the OEM and the circuit design engineers. This ensures that key functionality and features are considered from the very beginning of the process, eliminating any unnecessary component weight right at the start. This early interaction allows the OEM’s engineers and the system design team to cooperate and create the best fluidic system possible; a system that is not only cost effective but also suitable for mass production.

Equally, by minimising the number of potential failure points (leaks) in a system, the resulting greater reliability and improved service life lead to long-term operational cost efficiencies. With innovative design and manufacturing techniques, Parker fluidic systems are engineered to ensure potential leakage points are kept to a minimum. Good design and advanced manufacturing techniques deliver high circuit performance by creating optimum flow paths, even when space is extremely tight.

Reducing cost of ownership

When dealing with complex fluidic control systems, the devil can be in the detail. Managing the procurement of large numbers of components from multiple manufacturers can be costly and frustrating. Differing lead times, ordering methods and negotiations all have a knock-on effect on production and assembly. Being able to procure a complete, fully tested and certified fluidic system under a single part number eliminated these problems.

Customers of Parker have discovered major benefits from having a full service fluidic systems partner managing a project from the initial concept through feasibility, prototyping, testing and on to manufacturing. Having a partner to take ownership of the process, including documentation control, enables the device maker to focus attention on their core capabilities.

Continuous quality improvement 

The quality of equipment used in life science applications has to be second to none – and then improved still further. Quality has to be guaranteed, a painful process only achieved by rigorous factory testing before the systems can be delivered to the customer. Fluidic systems suppliers will deliver a fully tested system to the manufacturer, minimising the amount of local testing needed at installation. This also offers the device manufacturer security in terms of ownership and traceability; the responsibility to manage the bill of materials and to provide full traceability of components and testing documentation falls on the supplier.

Reliability and repeatability

Using experts to design and build fluidic systems is reliability of the final solution. Thousands of engineering hours and decades of system design experience inevitably result in the most dependable circuit design. Similarly, by implementing the very best manufacturing, assembly and test techniques the highest standards of repeatability can be achieved from the first unit to the last.

The results matter

To do the best they can for their patients, medical professionals need to have access to equipment technologies that speed recovery rates. It is only through world-class engineering that these products can be developed in the required timeframes to eliminate risk, reduce costs and ultimately, improve lives. Life science is a complicated discipline but things that can make life simpler and easier for medical professionals have to be welcomed. An approach to fluid system design that reduces costs and improves efficiency while helping to enhance patients’ lives, could mean the life sciences sector has an even brighter future.

Steve O’Reilly is with Parker Hannifin.





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