Perspective: How One Medical Device Found Its Way to Honduras

September 30, 2011

By Juris Grauds, Electrical Engineer

As an electrical engineer at Ximedica, I derive much personal satisfaction from solving difficult problems, something we do every day. But “I think, therefore I am” does not fully convey the sense of positive being I find here. Ultimately, I work in the medical field because it contributes to a greater good: helping others. These two important aspects of medical device design recently converged at Ximedica in the form of a wireless dental polishing tool for hygienists.

We were approached to develop a fully portable, wireless, electric polishing device for use everywhere, from a local dentist’s office to a benevolent mission for an indigent or otherwise underserved population center in Honduras. To accomplish this goal, our team was required to solve a myriad issues, beginning with the most obvious − engineering an adequately powerful device with significant size constraints; the handheld portion of the device was not much bigger than an everyday highlighter. As an electrical engineer charged with schematic design and printed circuit board (PCB) layout, every decision made by mechanical engineers affected my component choices and placement, which in turn impacted decisions made by our software engineers and industrial designers.

Cultivating this synergy of expertise is a core part of Ximedica’s design process, for it is certainly the most efficient and rewarding way to approach product development. However, despite this dynamic approach and much to our chagrin, we quickly realized that not every challenge can be met in Rhode Island, and took our search for solutions worldwide.

We ending up working with a leading Swedish motor manufacturer to pioneer the world’s smallest hall sensor controlled brushless DC motor, in order to meet the client’s strict torque requirements. We worked with power systems experts from MIT to design a wireless power transfer system to charge the unit’s battery without contacts, to ease cleanability and limit corrosion. We worked internally to develop a proprietary wireless communication protocol that was used to transfer speed information from a footpedal whose sensor had virtually no moving parts, in order to increase component life. We then integrated these solutions and many others into a functional and aesthetically pleasing product.

The technical satisfaction of solving these issues was immense, but again, it isn’t the entire story. We were recently informed that several of the devices were taken to Honduras by UCLA dental students, who set up entirely free dental clinics in locations that were the most in need. Taken from a blog post by one of the students, “We have an AWESOME cordless prophy handpiece thanks to [brand ommitted] that has been working great since we have the three chairs up and running with handpieces for restorations.”