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Developing RF generators for medical apps

Posted: 30 Sep 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RF generator? DC-DC converters? DSP? RF generator? USB?

Employing monitoring schemes that use dual sample and hold ADCs to allow simultaneous sampling of voltage and current, each signal is oversampled to allow reconstruction of each waveform with enough resolution to provide an accurate measurement of voltage and current. Point by point multiplication of the simultaneously sampled voltage and current signals, yields a real power waveform. From that, an average real power value can be easily computed.

Capacitive difference
Capacitors also frequently require customisation in medical applications. For some seemingly simple applications it would seem that any compatible part should do, such as blocking caps for RF generator. You could think that with the need for a capacitor of a certain value and voltage rating you can just drop one in. An understanding of the design standards for failure modes (60601-2-2 specific standard) is needed to know whether redundancy is required and what will be hazardous to the patient. It would compromise the production timeline if at the UL or TUV stage the designs are returned to the drawing board because of a wrong component selection.

There is, therefore, no such thing as "just a cap" in medical applications. With many capacitors such as decoupling caps and 'popcorn parts' in a design that have nothing special about them, the skill is to know where the critical parts are and why they are critical. An established team with overlapping circles of design responsibility will be able to define, even early on in the architecture level, details such as how to achieve high-bandwidth data across a patient isolation barrier.

Designing onto the PCB
The PCB design is critical to the usability of any medical device, with the need to have an understanding of what the physical design of the board means for the broader restrictions of safety testing, creepage and clearance, spill tests, moisture ingress and touch temperature. All these pose challenges. If the placing or mounting is incorrect, whether on single or multiple boards, the likelihood is that 95% of the requirements will be met but the other 5% will require a redesign of the whole board.

Engineers understand what has to happen with the PCB, but let them do the layout and the board may well prove non-manufacturable. However, the PCB designer must understand the requirements of the engineer. This means close collaboration is required between design and engineering teams with both bringing what is most important to the design to the table to achieve the best results.

Designing-in longevity
It is the software engineers who have to contend with recent statistics that indicated that around 80% of features in software products are never or very lightly used. It could be said that such features should never have been implemented in the first place.

With a customer that has a grand vision for their product, and a tight timeline, the software engineer will have to persuade them to prioritise the must-have from the nice-to-have features. Omitting features should never be considered optimal, but realistic decisions have to be made. There are many extra features, however, that have been customer defined for forward-looking requirements that may not be utilised in a first or second release.

With future proofing important in fast changing medical device market, upgrades must be efficient and simple to achieve with some purely software modifications and some hardware changes. At an early stage in the design process engineers will define just what hardware needs to be available for these upgrades, even if not initially utilised, and get that in situ to pass verification and manufacturing tests. The future software updates will not require hardware changes because that is in place and tested to meet these new requirements.

An upgrade delivered by USB
Utilising the ubiquitous USB connections it is possible to plug in a USB flash drive with a software upgrade image and have a bootloader or software upgrade management software recognise that image, verify it and install it. It can be complex, however, as it may be more than a single upgrade image and include UI software, FPGA and control software. It is possible to make this a simple, clean upgrade process, which could easily be manages by sales staff in the field, if these are extracted and a protocol put in place to transmit the images from a processor with USB access to the other programmable devices.

The customer will have high expectations but their main priority is the end product that will be presented to the patient, its therapeutic benefit and its user interface. They will not necessarily be concerned about the different elements that have had to be achieved as long as the product meets the original specifications, proves reliable and is delivered on time at the agreed price. By managing customer expectations, and ensuring it has the best design and engineering team, in place the EMS will deliver a medical device that meets therapeutic requirements and with a long shelf life.

About the author
Anthony Green is Director of Engineering EMEA at Plexus.

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