A breakthrough for veterinary medicine with help from Proto Labs
25 April 2018
Horses are extremely sensitive animals. Despite their size, they respond to even the smallest changes. Up to now, vets have experienced considerable difficulties in collecting reliable vital data for these animals over a long period. But a Swiss company has achieved a breakthrough in long-term stress-free examination with the Piavita Vet System. Protolabs supplies the essential plastic housings.
A good idea is not enough on its own. There is a long way to go before a product is ready for sale. Sascha Bührle knows that. As an Embedded Systems Engineer, Piavita's co-founder and CTO had great insight into the research and development of sensors in electrical engineering even before founding his own company. He has already filed several patents, in the fields of power generation of vehicles and for the production of crystal clear ice cubes amongst other things. Whilst downhill mountain bike racing, he hit on the idea of a highly accurate sensor which could measure movements through layers of different materials. The benefits of such a sensor for veterinary medicine soon became clear.
A breakthrough for veterinary medicine
The new sensor can measure through an animal's coat, skin and subcutaneous structures – a breakthrough with great potential in veterinary medicine! The measurement of vital parameters such as ECG, cardiac and respiratory rate using conventional methods requires considerable effort. Collecting the data alone can involve multiple devices - shaving, wiring and attachment of electrodes or even more invasive methods. Automated, long-term monitoring of several vital indicators simultaneously is often not possible, although it is urgently needed. The control of vital indicators can also offer key advantages for outpatient interventions such as dental treatment and castration - but so far the effort involved has not been justifiable. Among other things, this is because usually only larger veterinary clinics possess the necessary expensive equipment. Another major problem is the post-op waking up and recovery phase. This is considered the most risky practice in veterinary medicine, since the animal cannot be monitored digitally in this phase.
The Piavita Vet system changes all that. A palm-sized device simultaneously measures several vital indicators such as ECG, heart rate, body core temperature, respiratory rate and regularity, and activity. The measurement is completely non-invasive. There are no wires, no shaving and no electrode attachment. The measurement data is uploaded to the digital cloud so that it can be tracked and stored in real-time on the Piavita Vet platform - regardless of whether the user is standing next to the patient or sitting far away on their sofa at home.
The inherent potential in this system was recognized by Professor Colin Schwarzwald, Director of the Clinic for Equine Medicine at the University of Zurich.
Professor Schwarzwald is providing support on the scientific side for the development of the Piavita Vet System for the acquisition and monitoring of vital data. The possibilities offered by the Piavita Vet System represent a tremendous step forward in the medical treatment of valuable animals. Sascha Bührle has enhanced the specially developed sensor technology with all the possibilities offered by modern information technology. Thanks to Piavita, big data on the health of horses is now being created in unprecedented scope and detail. Deep learning algorithms enable the immediate processing and visualisation of medical data. The system is constantly improving its own pattern recognition abilities.
Wireless, stress-free, versatile
The Piavita Vet system consists of three hardware components (measuring device, belt and transfer station) and the multifunctional web platform which contains reporting tools and a patient management system. Data is transmitted via state of the art Bluetooth technology and an Internet connection. The fact that the horse is not stressed during the measurement makes the data far more meaningful. The measured vital data can be retrieved and evaluated in real time directly from any PC or tablet. Past measurements are automatically saved. Together with the easy handling of the hardware components and the intelligent data processing, the system is attractive for many applications in equine medicine. These include above all monitoring during an operation, birth or colic. Currently the most widely used application of the Piavita Vet system is for the long-term study of, for example, infectious patients in quarantine or for night time monitoring in clinics.
Making the hardware a reality
When extensive testing of the preparation for production was underway, Sascha Bührle called on the skills of chief designer Daniel Lehmann. The technical design was carried out using the cloud CAD program Onshape. Initial prototypes for dummy samples and functional analyses were created using conventional 3D printers. Next, a supplier was sought for production of fully operational overmoulded housings.
Commissioning an expensive steel tool costing tens of thousands of francs was not an option for the startup. Not only would this be expensive, it would have been too slow and inflexible. Former classmates recommended Protolabs as an express supplier of high quality injection moulded parts. The measuring device housing consists of two components; one hard and one soft. ABS was chosen for the impact resistant component. For the softer part, Piavita chose the biocompatible TPSiV® thermoplastic silicone.
Daniel Lehmann uploaded his model to the Proto Quote quoting platform and contacted Protolabs by phone: "Their advice was first class. I received the quote within a day. Protolabs was easily able to handle thermoplastic silicone, our proposed custom material. They always gave me direct support for all production-related design issues." In the medical field, it is not uncommon for customers to provide Protolabs with their own material with special specifications, and this was also a great advantage for Piavita.
Once the design was agreed, Daniel Lehmann commissioned the first 100 Piavita housings. After 15 working days, the housings were finished. As a result, products could be delivered in the start-up phase with fully-developed housings. This was followed by a further refinement of the technical design, a completely gap-free bonding of the upper and lower housing parts. An improved batch of 300 units was prepared immediately. Protolabs currently manufactures not only the housing of the measuring instrument but also the housing of the transfer station and the belt holder for the measuring instrument.
The resulting housings are well-designed, rugged and waterproof. They are easy to clean and non-sensitive to cleaning chemicals and disinfectants. The work of the Piavita team has already been recognised in many quarters. The Swiss high-tech startup has received numerous nominations and awards. These include winning the Venture Leaders Technology Awards 2017, nomination as one of the TOP 100 Swiss Startups 2017 and admission to the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program. Piavita is one of the few Swiss companies to receive the prestigious CTI Start-up Label from the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI). Sales are increasing as awareness of the reliable and professional use of Piavita for obtaining vital indicator data increases in the veterinary profession. It is now sold in 5 countries.
Working in Partnership
Currently Piavita has assigned the entire production of the housing parts to Protolabs. "As a result, we are incredibly flexible and can react quickly to changes without having to pay high fixed costs," argues Daniel Lehmann. There is no shortage of further ideas and application opportunities. There are ideas to expand the target market not only in other countries but also to other users such as breeders, sports riders and coaches. In this case the user interface, which is currently orientated towards veterinary medicine, would have to be adapted. "We are initially concentrating more on veterinary applications in horses", explains Dr. Dorina Thiess, co-founder and managing director of Piavita. "With Protolabs by our side, we are very optimistic about these developments. So far experience has shown that we have the right partner to implement innovations in injection moulding professionally and swiftly."
For more information, please contact:
Proto Labs Ltd
Tel: +44 (0) 1952 683047