Monthly Archives: February 2019

MedTech manufacturing trends to watch in 2019

By

Andrew Potter Bonifacio Consulting Services

“There’s a way to do it better. Find it.” — Thomas Edison

Medtech manufacturing professionals incessantly strive to find ways, as Edison encouraged, to do things better. Here are a few manufacturing trends to keep an eye on in the New Year. Some aren’t entirely new (though they continue to evolve), while others are just beginning and may be truly transformative.

 

Many deeply intertwined variables affect the business side of the medical device contract manufacturing sector: global markets and currency fluctuations; shifting clinical needs and varied patient populations; insurance, reimbursement and payment policy; raw material pricing and sourcing; manufacturing costs and margins. Those are just an important few. But what about manufacturing processes and technologies?

Automation and the Internet of Things (IoT)

Robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are reshaping automation, allowing companies to improve quality, maximize value, keep costs down or offer new services. As automation costs continue to drop and robots become more flexible and able to take on more tasks, justifying automation for lower-volume and lower-margin projects becomes easier.

Automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) overlap somewhat. Companies may gather operational data and analyze and leverage valuable information from manufacturing processes to change their organization and product development. Advanced analytics help to identify patterns and prerequisites for workflows and processes, such as preventative maintenance.

Automated manufacturing execution systems (MES) automate data collection into existing manufacturing resource planning/enterprise resource planning (ERP) structures. An MES can track and document the transformation of raw materials to finished goods, providing information that can help improve plant conditions to improve output.

Many companies use ERP software systems such as IQMS that show the status of all molding machines including uptime/downtime/cavity utilization, etc. Sensors and data collection will continue to expand into more areas of the plant and enable better decision-making based on real-time data, which can give a full picture into manufacturing processes, employee efficiency, and production planning effectiveness.

IoT can also help to maintain quality. Sensors can monitor humidity, ambient temperatures, water and other elements that could harm the quality of parts.

Companies need to ensure they are collecting relevant, accurate and useable information. Information should not be collected simply for the sake of collection.

Additive manufacturing

Medtech manufacturers have been quick to embrace additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, for prototyping, tooling, and in limited cases, final production. Factors such as speed, secondary processing, and appropriate materials still curb massive adoption. Despite current limitations, benefits include:

• Time to market: Improved and rapid prototyping make it easier to test concepts, designs, usability, etc.
• Manufacturing efficiency: Customized and manufactured fixtures, jigs and mold inserts easily improve manufacturing operations.
• Improved designs: 3-D printing enables designs and components not possible with conventional manufacturing methods.
• Customized products: Surgical tools, implants, and other 3D-printed components could improve patients’ lives and make healthcare professionals’ work easier.
• Cost reduction: Costs should come down as components are manufactured as needed, and there should be fewer complications as the one-size-fits-all approach disappears.

Most of the initial excitement around medical additive manufacturing has focused on metal products such as implants. On the plastics side, much of the energy is still on 3-D printing for educational purposes and prototyping of customized anatomical body parts such as the heart. But plastics also are being used for customized surgical tools, braces and continuous positive airway pressure (or CPAP) masks used to treat sleep apnea. Ceramics are also being used to replace/strengthen bones, particularly in dental applications.

3-D bioprinting is an exciting and potentially life-changing technology in which biological materials are printed and then grown in “bioreactors” to create artificial tissues and organs. This is an emerging technology and not something that we expect to see in any large-scale manufacturing environments in the near term—but the potential is impressive. Additive manufacturing can also be used in the pharmaceutical sector to customize pills to individual patients’ time-release needs.

As in most new innovations in healthcare, it will take time before significant amounts of medical products manufactured by additive manufacturing will be realized. Regulations, training, confirmation of costs and efficacy, as well as the conservative nature of healthcare, all contribute to slow adoption.

People: The most important tech

Medtech manufacturers need to know how to find and recruit a new generation of talent for highly technical areas as well as for the shop floor. While they’ve begun to seek out people already working in the industry, recruiting to less urban settings has proven difficult with millennials and younger workers.

Many manufacturers who work with community and technical colleges to provide hands-on opportunities with good future prospects, and may help reverse public impressions of dirty, low-paying jobs on the verge of being sent offshore. Medtech manufacturing workers are more likely to specialize in research and development, engineering, automation, quality, and operational excellence.

U.S. manufacturing apprenticeships are making somewhat of a comeback, particularly in tooling, maintenance, and processing on the shop floor, automation, and quality. The number of American apprentices increased from 375,000 in 2014 to 500,000 in 2016. The federal government predicts 750,000 by the end of this year, helped in part by expanding the apprenticeship model to include white-collar occupations such as information technology.

Andrew Potter is managing director of Bonifacio Consulting Services.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of Medical Design and Outsourcing or its employees.

 

2019 – Rise of the Robots? What lies ahead…

By John C. Buyers – Contributor – January 31, 2019

2018 was the year in which we saw specific applied artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions flourish, attain maturity and reach new heights of functionality

 

What lies ahead for the industry in 2019? Machine Learning is likely to further consolidate its position in many sectors and reach into areas that haven’t yet been significantly influenced, and developers are likely to make further efforts to counter the inherent challenges in the technology. Here are my five key predictions for 2019.

“Explainable” tech on the rise

As members of the public become more aware of the capabilities and limitations of AI, they will demand more transparency and accountability in AI decision making, which will drive funding and research into such “explainable” tech. As a result, we will see more responsible use of AI, rather than just using AI for AI’s sake. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation will also promote a cautionary approach to machine learning rollouts within the EU, particularly where use cases involve direct or indirect processing of personal data.

Underpinning this is a massive technological research drive to try and unpick the inherent “black box” nature of deep neural networks, either by re-architecting or developing complementary explicatory systems. Data Scientists are for example working on solutions to “slice” up complex ML decisions into more manageable (and defined) steps, each of which will hopefully make the task of auditing decisions easier.

Anthropomorphisation making robots more “human”

As the adoption of AI enabled devices becomes more widespread, there will be an increased trend to make these more palatable and speed up adoption through the use of simulated human characteristics (ie. anthropomorphisation).

We are inherently creatures of emotion and feeling so expect AI and robotics developers to exploit this emotional side in the forthcoming year – after all, if you’re emotionally connected to something, you’re less likely to get rid of it in favour of something else! Anki Robotics Vector is a very clever manifestation of this – rolling an Amazon Echo style voice assistant into a cute pet-like robot.

Increased personalisation and the struggle for data

AI will increasingly be used to serve up more and more predictive and dynamic content which will be highly personalised to you as an individual. This will assist online providers who strive to predict what you would like to purchase next, or suggest where you should take your next holiday. The Data gold rush drives personalisation and content, so expect battles to break out between the major providers who will become increasingly aggressive in their attempts to control and defend data sources. Watch out for flashpoints between the major consumer content platform providers such as Apple and Google, with large social media platforms.

Commodity AI service providers

As with traditional IT services, we are likely to see companies stepping away from single enterprise funded development (due to its inherently high cost) and towards standardised commodity AI cloud offerings from the likes of AWS and Microsoft Azure – defining an increased level of maturity in the delivery model. This will of course mean the “siloing” of more complex AI offerings with the big providers. Expect to see more and more marketing efforts to drive these commodity offerings which will be structured in a diverse PAYG spectrum all the way from renting access to data sets for defined applications (such as facial recognition) at one end to “out of the box” AI as a service solutions at the other.

Brick and mortar retailers

Brick and mortar retailers will begin to adopt the technology in a big way and will automate as a way to conserve costs and increase profit in an increasingly challenged environment, as well as using it to take on online operators. Expect to see more robots in the aisles – businesses such as Bossa Nova Robotics are providing a compelling business case to enable enhanced data analytics (by for example mapping products and SKUs to store footprints to enhance sales) and stock management (by pinpointing in real time where items are under or oversold).


About the Author

2019 – Rise of the Robots? What lies ahead… TechNativeJohn C. Buyers is Partner – Head of Machine Learning & AI at Osborne Clarke LLP. John leads Osborne Clarke’s international AI and machine learning client team, and has just written a book on the legal implications of these new and innovative technologies. He is currently advising a number of private sector and public sector clients (including a large UK healthcare trust) on the use and implementation of machine learning systems, and recently advised a global software services company on the liability issues of deploying AI within Europe. He recently completed a large outsourcing on behalf of a big four accountancy practice to implement an AI powered solution for an international bank to automate its client due diligence processes

 

5G points the way to life beyond the smartphone

The bandwidth boost that 5G brings might herald the end of the smartphone era.

By |
UK Editor-In-Chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic

 

One of the initial selling points for 5G — for consumers at least — is that it will give them the smartphone experience they’ve always been promised, but never really had.

All that extra bandwidth and lower latency should mean video chats without the stutter, virtual reality and augmented reality without the motion sickness and lag, and apps that can respond based on your location without freezing up.

This is excellent news, of course, and likely to be the first tangible benefit that consumers will reap from the gradual migration to 5G that will be happening over the next few years.

But one issue for 5G smartphones is that, although they will offer better quality services, they may not offer anything especially new. Businesses will, in time, get access to potentially useful 5G-powered Internet of Things (IoT) services, but for smartphone users there isn’t going to be much change beyond a speed increase. That might prove to be a headache for network operators and smartphone makers, who will be hoping that the rollout of 5G will kick off a new upgrade cycle.

Over time, then, 5G may well push consumers towards alternative and in-development devices instead.

Foldable phones and smart glasses

“With 5G acting as the fulcrum, the market is also set to witness the introduction of new device form factors that leverage a host of new and improved technologies, activated by cues taken from users’ surroundings, applications, or circumstances,” said a report from tech analyst ABI Research.

In particular, two device form factors will really benefit from 5G: foldable phones and smart glasses.

Both have been around in prototype form for some time, and will become widely used during the lifespan of next-generation 5G networks — the next decade or so.

royole-flexpai.jpg
The Royole Flexpai is the first foldable phone/tablet. Image: Royole

Foldable phones will hit the shops first, with the first ones appearing later this year. Foldable smartphones will mean a much bigger screen taking up the same amount of room in your pocket or bag. Those bigger screens will lend themselves to video and richer apps — which will require all that 5G bandwidth.

vuzix-blade.jpg
The Android-based Vuzix Blade AR Smart Glasses were launched at CES 2019. Image: Vuzix

Slightly further down the line are smart glasses. Some vendors are already testing 5G versions of smartglasses — the idea being that 5G will provide the bandwidth and the speedy response (1ms latency compared to 10ms on a 4G network) that will allow AR and VR to work without inducing motion sickness.

There have been all sorts of false dawns for smart glasses of course.

“However, vendors will need to ensure that these latest innovations provide a clear purpose to consumers, offering strong reasons for purchase, or else they run the risk of becoming low-volume niche products,” said ABI Research.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

But the combination of smartphone sales leveling off — making smartphone vendors very keen for a new device to sell — and 5G technology coming online could provide the conditions for a breakthrough. A new companion device in the form of smart glasses would help telecoms companies persuade consumers that 5G is something worth paying a premium for, assuming that other challenges (battery life, privacy and the ‘glasshole’ factor, for example) are addressed.

5G might finally bring the smartphone experience we’ve always wanted, but may also pave the way for the devices that will replace your phone.