Designing from Scratch

This week we completed our Medical Device Design course and it’s hard to believe how much we all learned and accomplished in only five days. After several days of research, brainstorming, screening our solutions, prototyping and investigating market size, existing intellectual property and manufacturing process, we were presenting our device to medical professionals! I am extremely proud of my team’s dedication to developing a solution and I am happy to announce that we were awarded the “Best Design Team at the Medical Technology Short Course” along with Pedi-Asthma!

CaliBreak: Aligning the Everyday Disconnects

My team’s project was creating a device to help promote correct alignment of metacarpals in hand fracture patients without surgical intervention in order to eliminate healing complications. Some of these healing complications include malunion, nonunion and shortening. These complications are caused by the muscles and ligaments in the hands pulling back on the bone and misaligning the fracture site. Any one, or combination, of these complications have the potential to cause residual pain, stiffness and complete immobilization of the fingers. This project is especially important to Costa Rica because 37% of all metacarpal fractures heal with these easily avoidable complications. Our solution needed to be affordable, have a universal fit and promote the correct alignment through direction and force. We developed a traction system, which both aligned fractured fingers and countered the force of the tightened muscles and ligaments. We used finger traps and a moveable surface to create adjustable tension and designed the rolling surface to be ambidextrous (flip over the surface to find the other hand). Below are images and a short video of the same device.



The Journey

I’ve begun to realize just how much GMI teaches and challenges you to form strong teams. My team consisted of me and three Costa Rican students (Nat, Luis and Sebastian). I really enjoyed being the only Rice student because I was surrounded by team members with entirely new perspectives, work styles and challenges. One of the main challenges was that all of my group members did not feel comfortable presenting because English was not their native language. Therefore,  they relied more heavily on me to lead the team. After several attempts, I began understanding how to help my group members overcome the language barrier and get out of their comfort zones. First, I would go through the main talking points with them and have them practice in front of the group. Then I would write out a script so that they could practice by themselves. Finally, if they wanted to continue practicing at night, I would record myself presenting their part so they could replay it as much as they wanted. This became our routine before any deliverable and they became much more comfortable.

In addition to challenges, we also experienced some touching and motivating moments. One of our best moments was when we realized the mechanism in our prototype was very flawed and would not be affordable for our patients. We only had 30 minutes to redesign and build a completely new prototype so the pressure was on. By now, we were experts in low fidelity prototyping (which seems very similar to kindergarten art class) and we felt like a well-oiled machine. Each member was efficiently working on different components while exchanging advice about the other members’ components. At the end of the 30 minutes, we successfully tore apart the old design and created our final prototype.

Overall, this corse taught me as much, if not more, than some of my semester-long undergraduate courses. While there were definitely times when I doubted if we would have anything substantial to show come presentation day, we successfully created an innovative medical device from scratch.

Team CaliBreak with Sebastian, Luis, me and Nat

Annie and I representing Pedi-Asthma and CaliBreak

New Perspective

I really enjoyed learning about the manufacturing process once we had developed our final prototypes and reached the “design freeze”, meaning that you can no longer alter your device’s design. I did not realize the amount of creativity required in ensuring that the manufacturing process is sustainable, fast and cheap. In fact, manufacturing has one of the largest impacts on determining if your medical device will be affordable. We learned about “designing for manufacturing” which essentially requires you to think about the manufacturing processes from the beginning. If design engineers in R&D departments decide to ignore their manufacturing restrictions and simply design whatever they want, the device will be much more expensive and ineffective. There are several scary examples of medical devices failing in patients because R&D and Manufacturing were not communicating during the devices lifecycle. Moreover, medical devices are very underdeveloped compared to other engineering areas such as civil, electrical and mechanical and, therefore, have a lot of room for optimization within manufacturing. I had never associated design with manufacturing and I was very pleased to hear the immense need for it as my internship at Boston Scientific involves working with Quality, Suppliers, Manufacturing and R&D. In the future, I could see myself designing and implementing medical devices for low-resource settings and I think being in a position to connect R&D and manufacturing departments would be extremely rewarding and effective.

Wet Season Beach Trip

To reward ourselves we traveled to the Manual Antonio National Nature Preserve for a night. Luckily we got one day of sunshine for the beach and one day of torrential downpour for the rainforest. This week’s wildlife count: Crocodile, Capuchin Monkey, Venado, Sloth and Parrot.

Sunshine at the beach

Trying to stay dry in Manuel Antonio

We begin our internships this Monday, so stay tuned for my first week at Boston Scientific!

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