The explosion in interest in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), including in sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture, is forecast to result in tens of billions of connected devices by the year 2020. However, deploying devices is not sufficient to create integrated systems returning maximum value to the industry. A coordinated communications system, combined with appropriate analytical and graphical output, as well as mobile device integration for knowledge dissemination is necessary to realise the full potential of the installation.
Connected intelligent networking
At COMAND, we have experienced distributed systems researchers looking at ways to provide an intelligent network to allow interoperability and autonomy of connected devices – irrespective of manufacturer, communications protocol or data types. By moving the intelligence into the network itself, we provide the scaleability required to handle potentially millions of always-on connections without congestion or lost data.
Within a distributed intelligent system, data analysis can be done wherever it is most appropriate – whether that is in the centralised core, at the network edges closer to the devices, or on the device gateways themselves. This versatility improves scaleability, reduces latency in the system, and can enable peer-to-peer (P2P) communication between devices or sub-systems.
Data visualisation, analysis and feedback
In addition to the collection and analysis of IIoT data, we have developed real-time dashboard data visualisation systems that allow real time monitoring and interpretation by human operators of system state – enabling rapid manual intervention or system tuning.
Dissemination of data analysis results, notifications or alarms to mobile devices can provide the end-to-end solution required by industrial operators for effectively managing a facility. We have developed cross-platform mobile device applications to both display the necessary information and allow interaction by the operator; providing manual feedback control of the system.
Automatic feedback (or closed-loop) systems (where the system is directly controlled as a result of data-analysis, without human intervention) are also possible. However, factors such as health and safety requirements, as well as the possibility of damaging valuable equipment, restricts the scale of any such system that can be achieved within the scope of a proof-of-concept.
Some examples from COMAND
1) Industrial machine tool monitoring system
We are currently investigating a manufacturing device data visualisation system to monitor the performance of an industrial moulding process, which would provide feedback to operators of the performance and accuracy of machine tools and signal in real time any deviation from normal working parameters. The factory data for visualisation, collected from machine tools and PLCs, can ultimately be fed into an analysis system to monitor the long-term performance of the moulding process and equipment, as well as other benefits such as preventive maintenance programmes.
2) Agricultural cattle feed dispensing system
As part of a cattle feed dispensing apparatus, we have developed a closed-loop system combining volume sensors with dispensing actuators to provide appropriate levels of feed with reference to a pre-programmed schedule or calendar. The system is designed to run automatically, but with the ability of the farmer to monitor progress and intervene if necessary through use of a cross-platform mobile application which can override the automatic functionality.
Working with COMAND
The COMAND Technology Gateway offers a flexible team of researchers encompassing a broad range of applicable knowledge in the field of connected media applications in distributed environments. We provide clients with a professional and effective asset in the specification and development of innovative solutions to technical problems.
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The new era of medical device design and development
The photo above shows a demo of an in vitro simulation unit for patient-specific abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and silicone AAA models display.
Cardiovascular simulators – what is being simulated?
The adoption of in vitro cardiovascular simulators by the medical device industry is driving current and future innovation. Companies now have access to customised in vitro simulation technologies that help to replicate highly complex cardiovascular scenarios such as stroke, coronary disease and aneurysm. Each of the customised in vitro simulators developed by MET provides the anatomical challenges that a medical device has to overcome during its clinical use.
Cardiovascular simulators – their customisation
MET researchers work with the digital medical data provided by the latest Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning technology. The clinical aspects are accurately extracted from the medical data and translated into engineering data by our dedicated team of specialists. The results are customised virtual models, on their true scale and clinical complexity. The virtual data are fed into the design and fabrication processes of the clinical relevant anatomical physical models. The customised models could be used as stand-alone in vitro setups for device testing or as integrated parts of a customised in vitro cardiovascular simulator.
How do cardiovascular simulators benefit medical device development?
MET cardiovascular simulators provide non-clinical engineering testing services as recommended by the FDA such as delivery, deployment and retraction, pushability, flexibility and kink test, accuracy of deployment, vessel anchoring force before slippage, migration, ease of preparation, ease of introduction and radiopacity. MET in vitro models mimic customised challenging in vivo tortuous anatomy, vessel wall friction and mechanical behaviour, which a device has to overcome in clinical use. The in vivo physiologic and anatomic conditions are fully mimicked by our customised in vitro simulators which are validated by clinicians associated with the centre.
Example of in vitro simulators technologies informing medical device design
The Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) simulation unit is one of MET’s customised in vitro cardiovascular simulators, which was validated to offer multiple testing options for industry such as:
Fluoroscope compatibility for delivery, deployment and retraction of bifurcated stent-grafts, balloon catheters for aortic occlusion and optimisation of deployment techniques to avoid stent kinking.
Stented AAA flexible model in vitro fixture and C-arm
Deployment test of two different stent-grafts under fluoroscopy (A and B). Resulted kinking during testing (C).
Ultrasonic colour Doppler imaging for deployment device resulted configuration and device impact on the blood flow.
Colour-Doppler flow visualisation within the AAA stented model. Longitudinal transducer setup, (T = Top, B = Bottom, R = Right, L = Left).
Colour-Doppler ultrasound flow visualisation for 3 cross-sectional planes for the migrated stent-graft device, within the AAA model, (1) Section before the kinked region, (2) Section through the kinked region, (3) Section before the iliac bifurcation, (A = Anterior, P = Posterior, R = Right, L = Left).
The blood is replicated by a blood-mimicking fluid prepared in-house, which accurately replicates the viscosity and density of the blood. The fluid is circulated through the in vitro fixture by a versatile, programmable BDC PD-1100 pump system accompanied by the StatysPD control and monitoring software. The pump system can achieve physiological hemodynamic simulation within in vitro cardiovascular flow networks, where the PD-1100 acts as a pumping heart. With the PD-1100 and the appropriate components, the local hemodynamics of the heart or any vascular bed can be simulated. Typical applications include: cardiac valve evaluation and vascular studies of aortic, peripheral, carotid, femoral, venous, and pulmonary flow networks.
MET Technology Gateway manages projects with a customer focus to achieve traceable, reproducible and cost effective outputs. MET was able to provide the customer clinically relevant data informing the performance of the device and comparing data measured within the same system from commercially available devices.
For many of us, taking medicine is part of our daily routine. But have you asked yourself about the effectiveness of your medicine? Or whether the active ingredients are reaching the parts of your body where they’re needed most? Is there another, more efficient way to deliver the drug to where it’s needed? These are the questions being asked by the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre (PMBRC).
What is drug delivery?
Many of us take medicines as part of our daily lives without considering the technology embedded within the medicine. At the heart of any dose is the active ingredient or drug, but these are always formulated with a range of inactive ingredients which can play a crucial role in the functioning of the drug. Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies are employing advanced technologies to improve the therapeutic benefit to the patient. These technologies may prolong the release of a drug, improve absorption within the body, target the site of release and improve patient compliance.
Such approaches and technologies are generally referred to as drug delivery, and researchers in the PMBRC are working on a number of drug delivery projects. The aim is to tackle conditions which are poorly served by existing medicines on the market.
Poorly soluble drugs
To work, (nearly all) drugs must make their way into the body’s cells, which are composed largely of water. Increasingly however, promising molecules coming out of drug discovery labs are not very soluble in water. The formulation of these drugs poses a major challenge for the pharmaceutical industry.
One solution is to embed the drug molecules into polymer carriers. These carriers prevent the drugs from grouping together in clumps, called crystals, that can be very slow to dissolve. Through work funded by Science Foundation Ireland, PMBRC researchers are studying ways of dispersing poorly soluble drugs in such carriers. The researchers are also trying to understand why some polymers work better than others in improving drug solubility. Ultimately, these drug-polymers can be mixed into patient medicine.
Transdermal drug delivery
The skin is the largest organ in the body and as a result it should provide an excellent route for drug delivery. The skin, however, has evolved to keep things out, not let things in. Only a handful of drugs — nicotine, for example — have the precise chemical properties required to make their way through the skin’s various layers.
Since the first transdermal patch was approved in the late 1970s, fewer than 30 drugs have made it to market in this format. The PMBRC’s HIPODERM project is trying to address some of the problems associated with getting drugs across the skin. Funded by the EU’s Marie Curie Programme, HIPODERM is a consortium that includes Waterford-based EirGen Pharma Ltd, Cardiff University and An-eX Analytical Services Ltd (also based in Cardiff).
The drugs being evaluated in the project are highly potent. High potency drugs require only a tiny amount, often less than the weight of a grain of sugar, to have a therapeutic effect. However, exposure to large quantities of these drugs can be highly toxic or even fatal and specialist facilities, such as those at EirGen Pharma, are required to handle them.
As part of the project, PMBRC researchers have been working on delivering drugs for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers, one of the most common forms of cancer in Ireland. The goal here is to target the drug to the affected skin layer and avoid leakage into the bloodstream where they can cause unpleasant side effects.
Delivering biologic drugs
A spin-off from HIPODERM is a project looking at the delivery of biopharmaceutical drugs through the skin.
Biopharmaceuticals are drugs which are grown in living organisms (often bacterial or mammalian cells) before being harvested and purified. Biopharmaceuticals or biologics are big business: 5 of the top 10-selling drugs worldwide are classified as biologics. However, biologic drugs cannot be delivered orally (i.e. swallowed) as they are destroyed by the digestive system. Instead, most biopharmaceutical drugs are injected or delivered by intravenous infusion, which is inconvenient for the patient.
An alternative being explored by the PMBRC is to deliver these molecules transdermally using microneedle technology. Microneedles are arrays of miniature needles, less than a millimetre in length, which can penetrate the skin layers but are too short to hit pain receptors.
Funded by the Waterford Institute of Technology Postgraduate Scholarship scheme, PMBRC researchers are incorporating biopharmaceutical drugs into patches containing rapidly dissolving microneedle arrays. The microneedles dissolve deep within the skin, releasing the drug that can then make its way into the bloodstream.
Drug delivery to the eyes
There are a wide range of ocular (eye) conditions such as infections, glaucoma, dry-eye syndrome and age-related macular degeneration which require specialised drug delivery technologies. Currently, many of these conditions are treated with eye drops, but the eye has evolved a very effective tear and blinking system to remove foreign material (including drugs) from the surface of the eye. Consequently, eye drops must be administered frequently to be effective and often suffer from poor patient compliance, especially amongst the elderly.
Funded by Interreg IVA (Ireland-Wales Programme) and Science Foundation Ireland, researchers in the PMBRC are working on a number of drug delivery technologies to prolong the contact time between the drug and the surface of the eye. One of these approaches involves entrapping the drug in a contact lens which will slowly release the drug over a day or even weeks.
As well as improving the therapeutic effect of the drug, these formulations are expected to enjoy better patient compliance. Initial results have suggested that these technologies may even enable drug passage to the back of the eye. Currently, back of the eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration must be treated by regular injections into the eye itself, an unpleasant experience with potential side effects.
Treatment of respiratory conditions
The lungs are a complex organ containing kilometres of airways and millions of air sacs. Delivering drugs deep into the lungs for the treatment of conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) requires a complex marriage of chemistry, physics and engineering.
One approach is to use dry powder inhalers (DPIs). DPIs contain fine drug particles blended with a carrier material (usually lactose, the sugar present in milk). When the patient takes a breath, the powder is drawn through the mouthpiece of the inhaler. The turbulent flow of the powder causes the fine drug particles to detach from the lactose and they are carried into the lungs.
In order to work properly, the drug must stick to the lactose particles, but not adhere too strongly such that they do not detach on actuation. The physico-chemical properties of the drug and lactose are critical to getting this balance right.
Funded by Teva Pharmaceuticals in Waterford, PMBRC researchers are using a variety of techniques to probe the interactions between the drug and carrier. In particular, the researchers have been able to understand the effect of certain formulation and processing factors which affect the performance of the DPI device.
Depot injections for the treatment of chronic illness
There are many chronic medical conditions where patients are on medication over prolonged periods of time. The effective treatment of these conditions is dependent on the patient consistently taking their medication as directed by their doctor – something which many fail to do for a variety of reasons. If a GP could administer a dose to the patient which would slowly release the drug over a period of weeks, or even months, it would greatly aid in the treatment of their illness.
In collaboration with the SEAM research centre and two Waterford-based GPs, researchers in the PMBRC have identified one specific condition which is not adequately controlled with existing therapies and are working on a depot formulation which will release the drug over a period of at least two months. The work was initially funded by Science Foundation Ireland, but is now funded by the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund due to the commercial potential of the technology.
3D additive printing is changing how manufacturing of engineering components will be achieved – not just in future but for applications today. The additive manufacturing process commences with a 3D digital image from a newly generated CAD software design or a digital scan of an existing component. A computer file is then generated that slices this image into cross sectional layers that are sent to the additive manufacturing machine that creates the component using a layer upon layer selective deposition technique.
A disruptive technology
What makes this manufacturing process so disruptive is the design freedom it allows, creating the capacity to manufacture complex component shapes with internal geometries and infrastructure which could not be replicated using conventional subtractive processes, which successively removes material across all three axes using CNC machines. It also creates the opportunity to completely change the supply chain management and distribution network for engineering components, bringing the manufacturer closer to the customer. Digital files will be distributed to regionalised additive manufacturers near their customers, capable of manufacturing a wide range of products on demand without the need for retooling – eliminating the need for large inventories of products and spare parts.
SEAM 3D metal additive manufacturing capability
In the SEAM Gateway, our mission is help translate the potential of 3D metal additive manufacturing technologies to Irish companies. The Gateway has, on site in Waterford, an EOSINT M 280 which is based on the innovative DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering). It is equipped with a 200 W fibre laser which melts fine metal powder and builds up the product, layer by layer. This method allows you to create products with extremely complex geometries including elements such as free-form surfaces, deep slots and coolant ducts.
Which industry sectors use 3D additive manufacturing
Because 3D metal additive manufacturing is an emerging technology with slower unit fabrication times and higher capital equipment costs than traditional methods, the early adaptors have been typically been one off high value added components. Examples of this include tooling for injection moulding where the optimised design of internal cooling channels greatly enhance productivity. The capacity to produce complex customisable components is of particular interest to value-added sectors such as:
Bio-medical devices where implantable devices can be customised to the patients offer huge potential, for example orthodontics and orthopaedic applications
Aerospace where the reduction in the size and number of constituent parts can yield significant weight savings and resulting lower fuel costs
Automotive industries with high-end specialised automobiles such as F1 engine parts
The technology challenges
There are significant technical challenges which need to be surmounted in order to widen the range of use and performance of 3D metal additive printed components and devices including:
A wider range of materials that can be used.
A greater understanding of material properties such as particle size, distribution, morphology and purity of the metal powder used in the additive process and the impact this has on machine process parameters, component density, reliability and surface finish.
Heat treatment techniques post processing to increase strength and hardness of the device by reducing residual stresses created by the additive layer process.
Enhanced capabilities in 3D digital design, delivering more complex customised solutions
How SEAM can help Irish companies
SEAM is uniquely placed within the Irish research infrastructure to address these issues and practically apply solutions relevant to the Irish manufacturing industry because of its high level of industry engagement and its wide range of materials engineering expertise and in-house reliability and characterisation tools. These include a suite of x-ray micro tomography, 3D finite element design capability, SEM, mechanical strength and hardness testing that can be utilised in combination to optimise and reduce the design cycle time from concept to a functioning prototype.
SEAM, in partnership with its sister Gateways in the Technology Gateway Network, including APT which specialises in polymer processing technologies, is focussed on practically applying the emerging 3D additive manufacturing technology innovations to Irish industry. The core objective will be to generate exciting new products and capabilities for 21st century Irish engineering and manufacturing sectors.
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Companies all over Ireland are using Technology Gateways to develop new or better products and services and smarter ways of doing things.
Through the Technology Gateway Network, they are leveraging the expertise of over 300 industry-focused researchers, together with the specialist equipment and facilities of the 11 Institutes of Technology, to access near-to-market innovation and solutions.
From polymers and photonics to mobiles and mechatronics
This website provides a guide to the 15 specialist gateways within the Technology Gateway Network and shows how their expertise can help your business grow and become more competitive.
Each Technology Gateway focuses on key technology areas aligned to industry needs. These range from polymers and photonics to mobiles and mechatronics… and everything in between – from materials, industrial design and precision engineering to biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, right through to embedded solutions and wireless services.
Within each Gateway, a dedicated Gateway Manager and a team of specialised business development engineers act as the key contact points for industry and manage the successful delivery of projects on time and within budget.
Small projects, big impacts
Technology Gateways are used by companies of all sizes, but especially SMEs. Typical projects focus on the development of a new product or service or the optimisation of a process.
Since 2008, over 600 Irish companies have used the Technology Gateway Network to complete more than 1,900 innovation projects at €21.5M, 43% of which has come directly from industry. A significant proportion of the companies have undertaken multiple follow-on projects with their partner Gateway, utilising the technical expertise with the gateways as an extension of their R & D capability.
About 90% of the projects undertaken by Technology Gateways are small, involving a total spend in the region of €5,000 to €10,000. But for businesses – and for Ireland Inc – the impact is usually far greater.
According to a recent economic evaluation, for every €1 invested in Technology Gateways, the company turnover increased by €5.85.
With real results for companies
In the same evaluation 87% of companies interviewed said that working with a Technology Gateway had brought about benefits for their business. The most frequently cited benefits were the improvement of existing or the development of new products or services and processes. A major attraction for companies is the open access nature of the Gateways where industry relevant expertise and equipment is readily available for industry partners. The Gateways’ objective is to partner with companies along their innovation journey to develop technology solutions that will deliver increased growth, sustainability and competitiveness.
Gateway Managers are always happy to discuss potential collaborations with industry, so for more more information follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn, or simply get in touch.
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The Technology Gateway Network delivers innovation expertise to industry across Ireland. It is run by Enterprise Ireland in partnership with the Institutes of Technology.
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