Recently we partnered with ActivBody, a start-up focused on creating a handheld, health and wellness consumer product called Activ5. Their innovative product is a portable fitness device that connects to a mobile app to help users complete a variety of isometric exercises in a fun and engaging way. The device measures compressive forces applied by the user and continuously transmits that data via BLE to a mobile device.
Andrews-Cooper was responsible for all aspects of the device development, including mechanical, electrical and embedded software engineering. The resulting product met all its requirements including:
- Accurate force measurement over 1-200lb range
- Greater than 6-month battery life with on AAA battery
- Connects reliably and easily over BLE to IOS, Android and Windows devices
- Meets low BOM cost target
The Technical Challenge
The biggest technical challenge was accurate, low-cost, wide-range force sensing. Fortunately, Andrews-Cooper has considerable in-house expertise developing products using a variety of sensors. The challenge in this case was to make sure we achieved the right balance between cost and accuracy.
We quickly surveyed the available technologies and of the nine possible candidates determined that a custom load cell could achieve the required accuracy, repeatability, and size requirements while still meeting the cost objectives. Once the client reviewed and approved the approach, we worked with industry expert suppliers to optimize strain gauge geometry and spring element materials and configuration.
With cost a critical factor, Andrews-Cooper did a deeper dive. We worked with contract manufacturers to optimize the design to ensure that it integrated well with their standard processes.
Product Concept Refinement
Andrews-Cooper has established working relationships with several Industrial Design partners. Each firm has deep expertise in specific areas that are of value to our customers. Industrial Design, User Experience and Content Mapping might play a role in your product. Andrews-Cooper can match your needs with the right partner.
One point of collision on most products during conceptualization is getting the technology packaged in the enclosure envisioned by the ID team. Getting engineering and ID communicating early is critical to project success. Forming the right user experience within the constraints of the physical world can be a challenge.
On this project, the client had worked with an ID firm and had frozen many aspects of the product design concept before we were engaged. Andrews-Cooper worked carefully to refine product geometries, sizes, shapes, materials, finishes and texture. We were able to package the needed components and meet all of their Industrial Design objectives coming within 10% of the original size goal.
The Product Realization Process
Andrews-Cooper has a custom Quality Management System (QMS) that is rigorous enough to comply with the medical device development standard ISO 13485. At the same time, it is flexible enough to also comply with ISO 9001 for commercial products.
For this project, Andrews-Cooper’s scope of work included refining the initial product concept, defining the technical requirements, designing the system architecture, and designing and implementing all of the detailed mechanical, electrical, and firmware design elements. The product design was validated and verified through a series of prototype builds and transferred to the contract manufacturer for high-volume production.
Our clients place high value on the structure, discipline and reduced project risks of our product realization processes.”
Project budgets, and schedules were created based on a collaboratively created project plan early in the engagement. Our product development strategy used iterative design phases. These phases produced sequentially more refined prototypes until the design was ready to transition to high volume contract manufacturing.
Our institutionalized processes and quality system allow Andrews-Cooper to deliver to a predictable plan. Our client had previously been burned and had experienced a false-start with another development partner. Our clients place high value on the structure, discipline and reduced project risks of our product realization processes.
From Design Inputs to Design Outputs
Well planned product conceptualization and architecture enables effective and predictable design. In the case of this handheld wellness product, Andrews-Cooper worked with the client to capture the product requirements and from these specifications created an architecture that optimized the mechanical, electrical and firmware designs.
Up-front planning allowed the extended team to quickly set expectations regarding roles, delivery and interdependencies between the client, the design team and each external partner. Detailed design produced 3D mechanical CAD data, PCA Schematics and Layout, and Firmware source code.
Utilizing our extensive experience in collaborating with Chinese contract manufacturers, we assisted ActivBody in selecting a manufacturing partner. We involved the CM early in the development process with DFM (design for manufacturing) reviews and they built the DVT prototype units. Early manufacturing involvement enabled a fast and efficient transition to high volume production.
There were several areas that required close interactions in order to ensure that the client’s design intent was preserved.
- Load Cell Optimization: At the heart of the device is a set of custom load cells. The product requirements and design intent informed the exact geometries and load cell locations. Andrews-Cooper design engineers worked closely with the selected supplier to optimize material utilization, material selection (a material familiar to the supplier yet one possessing the mechanical properties required by the design), strain gauge properties including material, resistance, geometry. The resulting design was engineered both for design functionality and for manufacturability.
- Tool design: Our design engineers have deep expertise in designing plastic parts for high-volume production. Once the parts had been detailed, several members of the Andrews-Cooper mechanical engineering staff held an internal design review to ensure that the parts were ‘toolable’ and used the best possible methods for feature creation. Based on feedback from the Andrews-Cooper team, changes were made. At the client’s request, the principle design engineer traveled to China for a tooling and molding review. The part designs were further optimized with small changes to accommodate the contract manufacturer’s preferred plastic part processing.
- Material Selection: Device requirements included a thermoplastic over-molded case with a soft-touch feel. The client tested finish, softness and texture with user groups to refine this critical, client requirement. Andrews-Cooper worked with the toolmaker, molder and material suppliers to ensure material compatibility and substrate adhesion, RoHS compliance, cost optimization, processability, material availability.
Synergies Between Product Development and Manufacturing Automation
In the development of the Activ5 device, we identified the need to perform factory calibration of the force sensors. There were no off-the-shelf options. ActivBody engaged the Andrews-Cooper team to develop this equipment.
The Product Development and Automation teams collaborated to generate the technical requirements for the system, allowing the Automation team developed a system architecture to meet project needs and constraints (cost, schedule & scope).
The semi-automated Calibration Test Fixture accomplishes several important tasks in the manufacturing environment, including load calibration, functional verification, and software installation for each Activ5 device. An operator inserts the Activ5 device into the test fixture after placing it in a specially designed vacuum nest. The test fixture verifies the proper placement of the device prior to engaging a custom electrical connector.
The system automatically completes the calibration and testing of the Active5 device in less than one minute, then provides a device status to the operator indicating whether the device is ready for final assembly and packaging operations.
Your Go-to-market Partner
Entrepreneurs, particularly those new to the experience, will encounter many challenges trying to navigate the complexities of product development. To help meet this challenge, Andrews-Cooper provides complete, predictable, turn-key product realization. Clients can benefit from our years of experience in product development in both the medical and consumer markets. To better partner with our clients we can tune three important project attributes to match your specific business situation:
- Project Delivery: Of the numerous steps required to bring an idea to volume production delivery, Andrews-Cooper has capabilities to provide all aspects of product realization and delivery. A-C can truly fill any gaps in your project delivery engine.
- The Development Process: Andrews-Cooper can partner with you in defining a development plan that is customized to your needs to realize the best possible development cost, time to market, project scope, and product feature set.
- Quality Management System: With a flexible ISO 9001 / 13485 compliant quality management system, we can dial-in the right level of project control that will ensure predictable delivery with quality appropriate to the market need. If you have your own internal quality system we can work to your processes.
Your Go-to-market Coach
We can also provide best-practice coaching as you work with us and other partners. We can recommend partners that match your needs or we can work with those you have already identified. In this project, we helped the client work through areas that were new and unfamiliar including: ‘country specific testing’, contract manufacturing, BLE consulting, and load cell supplier optimization.
Andrews-Cooper provides complete, predictable, turn-key product realization.”
For more information about how we can help you transform your innovative idea into a marketable product, please contact us.