Positioning Technology Solutions Ensure Reliability In Medical Equipment Design

December 1, 2016 Rachel Pilgren-Kane

Successful medical equipment design involves taking a closer look at the smaller design components to improve operator comfort, efficiency and satisfaction.

Jim Ford, Director of Corporate Product Management at Southco

Positioning technologies—the adjustable mechanisms that safely support or suspend displays, doors and panels for optimal use—are a key component of successful medical equipment. Though a smaller piece of the overall design, from the end user’s standpoint, how easy it is to move and adjust the equipment can play a larger role in defining the perceived quality, reliability and effectiveness of the apparatus. Because low performing solutions can contribute to the failure of an otherwise well-designed piece of equipment, engineers should focus on incorporating pre-engineered, validated positioning arms and display mounting solutions to ensure long-term reliability.

Current medical equipment design challenges

Medical equipment used in today’s healthcare environment is subject to more wear and tear than ever before. Many items, even very heavy equipment such as imaging devices, are designed to be moved and adjusted. They often feature complex user interfaces, like touchscreens or computer terminals, which must stay positioned as desired. At the same time, industry standards for safety and usability must be met.

In a medical setting, equipment is in constant use, and may be exposed to harsh cleaning products or chemicals, extreme temperatures or biohazards. Patients or healthcare workers may lean on them. When moved or transported, machines are regularly subjected to shocks and bumps.

Dysfunctional positioning mechanisms takes a toll on operator comfort, efficiency and satisfaction. Poor design and inadequate durability are frequently to blame. Since a breakdown of critical equipment can increase the risk of operator strain over time, all facets of medical equipment, including positioning technology, must be designed to maximize operation and usability.

Display positioning systems designed for light use or with adjustment knobs or levers often cannot withstand the rigors of daily use. Operators may not know how to use them, want to take the time to adjust them, or even realize adjustment is an option. Healthcare workers may damage positioning arms with intricate settings by trying to force them into place—resulting in a bent mechanism that is still operational but not ideal or a machine that must be repaired altogether.

In some cases, positioning arms or display tilt mechanisms may move as intended, but lose their ability to stay put over time or shift their position during transport. An operator must then make continual readjustments to keep equipment in position and will often adjust their own position, rather than adjust the equipment to their preferences. For example, rather than tilt a screen over and over to coincide with his or her line of vision, a user will hunch down or squint to adapt to the screen’s default position. Inadequate positioning durability can make an otherwise high-performance piece of equipment painful to use or worse, a warranty liability.

Quality positioning mechanisms improve equipment usability

The ultimate goal of successful medical equipment design is to make the apparatus so easy to use that it is “invisible”—in other words, it doesn’t distract the operator from their daily job functions. Operation should be intuitive and ergonomic, safely accommodating unique user preferences. Well-designed equipment ultimately improves end user experience, rather than causing added stress or strain. And it should last.

Positioning technology designed with engineered constant torque helps to achieve these objectives. It advances medical equipment designs by eliminating the problems inherent in less sophisticated mechanisms. High-quality, pre-engineered arms, display mounts and hinges designed with constant torque technology are extremely reliable, requiring no maintenance or adjustment for the life of the product.

Positioning hinges designed with constant torque technology, like the ST Series, eliminate the need for secondary supports to hold hinged components in position.

Constant torque technology uses engineered friction systems to provide continuous resistance against motion. This means a person can 1) adjust equipment to the most ergonomically comfortable position with minimal effort and 2) rely on the positioning technology to maintain that exact setting without drifting, even when a machine is moved.

Constant torque solutions for display mounts and arms allow simple, one-handed positioning of heavy screens and monitors, vastly improving operator experience, comfort and convenience. In addition to positioning arms and mounts, constant torque hinges also provide intuitive end user operation. These hinges provide a full range of motion stops and are useful for doors, panels and heavy lids that need to be easily opened and closed. Constant torque hinges offer precise, quiet, low-vibration control that delivers the smooth user experience expected of a high-end piece of equipment.

Southco’s AV series is a pre-engineered design solution that provides intuitive and ergonomic operation and ensures  smooth operation for the lifetime of most equipment.

Pre-engineered solutions alleviate design risks

Critical to the utility and longevity of medical equipment, reliable and durable positioning should be accounted for early in the design process. Incorporating pre-engineered solutions for display arms, mounts and hinges can ensure smooth operation for the life of the equipment, increase customer satisfaction, aid in compliance with changing medical design requirements and avert recalls, warranty claims and safety issues.

Taking advantage of proven, constant torque technologies is a smart way to reduce designer risk while saving time and expense on R&D. Designers who attempt to cut costs by designing medical equipment positioning systems in-house or by using competitor products intended for lighter duty applications may uncover numerous hidden expenses. Engineering, tooling, product testing and validation costs add up, while time to market is delayed or products are returned for poor performance. The engineer tasked with ensuring that the design fulfills all the application parameters often bears the responsibility when the mechanism fails.

Pre-engineered solutions that are designed from the ground up to withstand the demands of the medical environment offer many advantages. Their reliability has already been validated both by the manufacturer and by other companies that have used them. These components allow for more streamlined designs as well. For instance, a single constant torque hinge may substitute for a hinge/gas strut combination on an incubator lid, imparting a sleek appearance, eliminating protruding parts, and reducing labor costs for installation and assembly. Pre-optimized solutions may be specified to match equipment size, operating effort, operating environment and color, further simplifying the design process.

Special considerations for medical equipment design

Well-designed, pre-validated display mounts, arms and hinges can save time in medical equipment design and help shift the burden of risk from the designer to the manufacturer, while enabling component reduction and raising customer satisfaction. Choosing a proven, engineered positioning technology solution from a reputable supplier ensures that the mechanism will provide reliable operation for the lifespan of most equipment, making it the ideal choice for medical equipment applications where precise positioning and control is critical to the overall design.

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