MDDI_Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

MDDI, July 2016

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EyeOnSuppliers 32 | JULY 2016 mddionline.com Image courtesy of MOLEX T he miniaturization of medical de- vices brings benefits to clinicians and patients. Smaller, sleeker de- vices are easier for physicians to hold and maneuver. For patients, a smaller device can offer less discomfort. But many of these products still connect to cables. As devic- es get smaller and narrower, all the while being tasked with carrying more complex electronics that transmit more data, con- nector suppliers must find ways to provide greater functionality within a shrinking footprint. In the past, off-the-shelf connectors were often sufficient to meet requirements for medical devices, said Anthony Kalaijakis, strategic medical marketing manager at Lisle, IL-based Molex. As products became more specialized, Molex addressed OEM needs by producing custom connectors. These days, it's more common for medical device makers to ask for connectors that can work in devices that are smaller, lighter, and even have wireless capabilities. This trend has led Molex to tap the work it has done in other industries. Consumer electronics have long been on track toward smaller devices that require smaller connectors, Kalaijakis said. That trend accelerated with the emergence of mobile electronics. Innovations that paved the way for smaller products in consumer and industrial applications have carried over to medical devices. While medical de- vices have started to incorporate some of these smaller connectors, regulations cov- ering medical devices mean this adoption moves more slowly, Kalaijakis explained. Still, electronic circuits used in mobile phones are finding applications in medi- cal devices that have wireless capabilities, while fiber optic technologies used in tele- communications equipment finds applica- tions in medical robotics, Kalaijakis said. Lemo USA is also seeing OEM more re- quests for connectors used in fiber optic applications, although the miniaturization trend in medtech is less of a concern at the Rohnert Park, CA-based company. Most of Lemo's connectors are outside of the device, so the main considerations are the ease of pushing and pulling to mate and unmate a cable and the ability of the connector to reli- ably maintain the connection, said applica- tions engineer Randy Jew. Another require- ment Lemo sees with greater frequency is greater density in the connectors. OEMs may want connectors of the same size, but they now want those connectors to hold more pins, which presents challenges, Jew explained. Lemo can sometimes draw on connec- tor solutions from other industries, but not always. For example, the military is one of the markets the company. Like medical de- vices, military applications are technically demanding and call for high performance. But medical OEMs prize ease of mating and unmating of connectors, a feature the mili- tary does not want for its connectors, Jew explained. As devices get smaller, it's harder to en- sure that the electronic components can perform at the same level. Size isn't the only challenge. Unlike industrial applications or consumer electronics, medical device components must satisfy additional stan- dards. When adapting connector technol- ogy developed for a nonmedical application for use in a medical device, that connector must meet sterilization requirements, Ka- laijakis explained. If the device is an im- plantable product, the connector must be made from implantable-grade material. Increasingly, connector companies also must consider how a device will be handled by someone who is not a clinician. As de- vices become portable and are used outside of medical settings, OEMs and connector companies need to think about how eas- ily it can be handled by a home healthcare worker or even by a patient. "Yes, we can make it tiny," Kalaijakis said. "But how is a 70-year-old patient able to manipulate it?" There are stark differences between the way large companies and startups ap- proach the supplier process. In many cases, large companies have people working on the same project from different locations, Jew said. That makes communication and coordination more difficult and can length- en the time needed to select a connector. With startups, the process can be faster. Connectors Adapt to Calls for Smaller Sizes, Greater Density Electronic connector solutions used in consumer and industrial applications are slowly but surely making their way into medical devices. The MediSpec Medical Plastic Circular Interconnect System from Molex provides an alternative to typical medical circular connectors in a custom-off-the-shelf design.

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