The latest ground-breaking medical devices depend on reliable, effective batteries to power them. Many of these products are life-sustaining and life-changing, so consistent power is essential.
Pixium Vision, established in December 2011, is working on cutting-edge technologies which could revolutionize the treatment available to people who have lost their sight.
The company is developing bionic vision systems, designed to give some useful sight back to individuals who have gone blind due to outer retinal degeneration. The latest device is called IRIS® II Bionic Vision System. It is made up of three components: a pair of eyeglasses with a revolutionary integrated neuromorphic camera that is designed to mimic the human retina; the Saft lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery-powered pocket computer that turns the camera’s pictures into digital data signals; and a retinal implant designed to be exchangeable, that receives data from the glasses and stimulates the retina through 150 tiny electrodes.
The optic nerve then carries the electrical signals to the brain, which interprets them as an image – enabling people who suffer incurable vision loss to regain some useful visual perception again. It doesn't give perfect vision yet, but for people who no longer have any sight at all, the retinal implant and wearing the headset is transformative.
It was very exciting to be involved at the beginning of something so groundbreaking. We saw it was a very demanding project but we felt we could bring our experience in the field to offer something light, reliable and with strong performance.Pascal Hans Sales Manager for the Civil Electronics division at Saft
The battery for the pocket computer must, of course, be light enough to be easily portable for the wearer. Much more importantly, the battery also needs to offer the highest level of reliability: it must deliver enough power instantly, exactly when the Pixium’s IRIS® II system needs it.
Besides, the battery must have autonomy; it needs to be able to look after itself. A battery for such a sensitive usage must offer long life with no maintenance and negligible customer involvement for recharging, for example. Pixium Vision recognizes the importance of getting these details right, and says that “Saft’s Li-ion miniaturized battery system is critical” to their device’s operation and success because it is reliable, small and light.
In financial terms, a reliable and long life battery with no maintenance also reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the device. Every part of such devices must meet stringent medical regulations, and Saft imposed additional constraints on its production process to ensure that every product was free from defects.
In its work with Pixium and its design company, Saft was required to create batteries that also looked good. While some batteries are hidden out of sight inside devices, this one is housed separately – so it must meet the same medical device design standards as the rest of the retinal implant system.
Berlin Heart is another medical-device maker that needs profoundly reliable batteries. The company develops and produces ventricular assist devices (VADs), which are vital for patients with end-stage heart failure who may be waiting for a transplant. These devices are either implanted or used externally, and the company even makes a model for pediatric patients.
Berlin Heart’s devices need batteries that provide autonomous power to support patients for the whole day, so they can walk around and be discharged from hospital to live a close-to-normal life. As Thammo Weise, product manager at Berlin Heart, puts it: “Saft batteries are mission critical for our VADs because they provide reliable mobile power. Mobility is an important feature for our patients; it lets them enjoy an improved quality of life.”
Another medical device company with significant battery demands is STERIS. They recently developed a new smart operating table with advanced ergonomics. It is fully powered to reduce strain on the clinical team.
STERIS had not been able to find a battery solution it was happy with and so turned to Saft, which came up with Li-ion battery packs compact enough to fit within the table column. A full eight-hour shift could also be managed on a single charge.This kind of development process works best when the battery maker can work closely with the customer, making proactive proposals and sharing technical and commercial information, as did Steris and Saft.
Demands on battery cells in medical environments are about as tough as they get: above all, reliability is essential. Companies come to manufacturers like Saft to create bespoke batteries that fit their needs perfectly, knowing that other factors, such as portability, autonomy and responsiveness, are crucial to their customers as well.