Convenience at Your Fingertips: Porticos Helps Develop Automated Medication Dispenser

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We’ve all been there: worried that a loved one isn’t taking his medications or, perhaps worse, is taking medication improperly. It can lead to hospital stays, the inability to live independently, and lots of stress on patients and loved ones.

Spencer Healthcare Solutions, an RTP-based company, has developed a hardware and software platform to address this medical challenge.

The “Spencer” is a smart, connected health hub that dispenses the right pills at the right time. Since patients and pharmacists don’t have to sort or count pills with Spencer, the danger of human error is drastically reduced. Plus, Spencer can send reminder alerts and even connect patients to Spencer-trained pharmacists for questions and advice.

So patients and their loved ones can feel confident that medications are taken properly and at the correct time. If you’ve ever worried about a loved one on multiple medications, you know peace of mind is life changing!

Porticos Design Challenge: Balancing Precision and Ease

One of the fundamental pieces of the platform solution is to provide the medicine to the patient in a format that the Spencer device can properly dispense. For the Spencer that means a cartridge containing prepackaged foils of medicine. To meet this need, Spencer Healthcare Solutions engaged Porticos to develop the “Spooler”. The Spooler allows the pharmacist to efficiently and reliably package the patient-specific foils into a cartridge that can then be put into the Spencer unit for dispensing by the patient.

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Creating a product with such a high-stakes role in patient health presented several challenges. First, the Porticos design team needed the Spooler to be agile and dependable: small enough to fit on a countertop, fast enough to produce a medication pack every 30 seconds, and reliable enough to be a life-or-death part of a healthcare plan. It also needed ethernet capability and an easy-to-navigate touch screen, so even the least tech-savvy could use it with ease.

As the name suggests, the Spoolers’ main function is to wind and unwind the foil packets of medication to fill the cartridge. One of the obstacles to performing that function while meeting the time requirements is for the medication packs to jam or be torn by the mechanisms during that process. To overcome this obstacle, Porticos engineers ideated a variety of unique mechanisms and performed design of experiments to prove out the concepts. As a result, Porticos was able to create a Spooler that winds and unwinds smoothly every time – a reliable solution for a critical part of patient care.

One of the key steps that Porticos advised all customers to consider as part of the design process is to prototype the design to allow functional evaluation before proceeding to production manufacture. Case in point was an obstacle that was identified during initial prototype functional trails; specifically engagement and disengagement of the Spooler “arm”. The arm interfaces with a hub in the cartridge to perform the winding function. Originally, Porticos designed a traditional latching mechanism to secure the arm in place, but the team soon realized that optimizing (1) the forces necessary to ensure good engagement with the cartridge hub and (2) the need for the pharmacists to easily disengage the arm was problematic. To solve this challenge Porticos engineers devised a unique magnetic solution that not only meets the functionality requirements but exceeds the life cycle requirements as well.

As further testament to Porticos innovative contribution to the Spooler and Spencer products, Porticos engineers were named inventor on multiple patents.

“Porticos engineers did an excellent job of developing the spooler unit,” said Jeremy Bridges, Hardware Manager with Spencer Healthcare Solutions. “They worked very well with our team and were very responsive to our needs. We were especially impressed with some of the innovative solutions that they develop and were able to integrate into the product.”

Porticos Production Challenge: Balancing Cost and Medical Standards

Once the Spooler was designed, Spencer Healthcare Solutions needed a cost competitive production plan that could also meet the high-quality standards for medical equipment. Porticos Asia, the production services arm of Porticos US, was able to identify the perfect production spot for a custom build—one that could match quality and cost efficiency with an aggressive delivery schedule. They were able to ship the first batch of Spoolers just twelve weeks after the start of production—all the while analyzing the manufacturing flow for further cost reduction in future production runs.

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Meeting The Challenge: Another Product Design Partnership

Through both the development and production stages, Porticos US and Porticos Asia were proud to support Spencer Healthcare Solutions.

“We consider Porticos to be a valuable partner in reaching our company goals,” said Ben Wetzel, Finance Manager at Spencer Healthcare Solutions. “They have provided excellent engineering and manufacturing support. Furthermore they have remained flexible throughout our engagement to meet our changing needs.”

For more information on the product, visit www.helloimspencer.com.

For more examples of how Porticos is Product Design for the Way We’re Designed, visit porticos.net.