Medical engineers are rightly picky about the technologies they use. One place where they get to see which ones they like is at the Medical Design & Manufacturing West, a trade show that brings together a wide variety of medically focused component suppliers and manufacturing services. Now that this medical show shares space with the Pacific Design Show and Automation Technology Exposition, it has also become a good place to check out the latest in motion, sensing and robotics’ components — for medical applications and more. Here’s a look at some highlights.
Microfluidic Flow Sensor
Sensirion AG’s MEMS-based liquid flow sensors for microfluidic systems weigh only 6g, but handle flow rates up to 3 ml/min. The design integrates the sensor and its digital circuitry for linearization and temperature compensation in a single chip for size, weight and cost reduction. Since the semiconductor sensor chip is mounted on the outside of flow path and senses through the wall of the channel, Polyetheretherketones (PEEK) or fused silica (glass) channels isolate the liquid media. The design allows media detection and accurate measurement of liquid flow rates down to nl/min. With response times in the millisecond range, the sensors enable the monitoring and controlling of dynamic effects in microfluidic systems. Target applications include analytical instruments, medical devices and life-science applications.
Mini-Motor does Medical Pumping
Maxon Motor continues to shrink the size of its integrated motors and feedback devices. At the Medical Design and Manufacturing Show West in Anaheim, CA, the company showed off a new 6-mm dc motor with an integrated magnetoresistance (MR) encoder. “It’s part of our growing focus on miniature mechatronic systems,” says Kirk Barker, the company’s electronics’ product manager. Previously, the smallest size integrated motor of this type was 10 mm, Barker says. One of the first uses for the new motor is in a precision medical pump. Barker says the motor not only helps operate the pump but also acts as a sensor that reveals blockages or malfunctions — which turn up as changes in back-EMF and current.
The Speediest Adept Robot Yet
Adept showed what it claims to be the world’s fastest commercial robot at the Automation Technology Expo West in Anaheim, CA. Called the Quattro, this four-axis parallel robot reaches speeds up to 10 m/s and offers accelerations up to 15g, according to Seema Gupta, product manager for the new robot, as well as for the company’s SCARA models. That kind of speed translates to typical cycle times in the 0.26-0.50 sec range, depending on the payload. That payload is rated up to 2 kg for this model, which has a positioning repeatability of ±0.1 mm and an angular repeatability of ±0.4 mm on its rotational axis. The robot’s work envelop is 1,300 mm with a 500 mm z-stroke. The most striking thing about the Quattro is that it features a patented four-arm design, one more arm than the Delta robots that have established themselves as the most common parallel robots. “The extra arm allows better load balancing, which helps us achieve the higher speeds,” Gupta says. The Quattro is intended for high-speed packaging and material handling in a variety of industries, with a focus on one-part-at-a-time applications. Gupta notes that the robot will handle up to 180 parts/min, one at a time. Adept licensed the four-arm design from Fundacion Fatronik, a technology center in Spain.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.