Blog | KMC Systems | Medical Engineering and Contract Manufacturing

How Collaborative Ideation Leads to Advanced In Vitro Diagnostics.

Written by Jo-ann Loh | July 18, 2017

Guidelines for Early Stage Innovation in Medical Device Design and Development 

If you’re on a quest to turn a groundbreaking diagnostic concept into a one-of-a-kind, automated, medical masterpiece, you know that every step has to be well-planned and organized. When facilitated correctly, structured collaboration and ideation sessions can be used to generate a wealth of innovative concepts, eventually leading to innovative medical device design and development. In this blog, we’ll provide a few insights on the KMC ideation process for you to consider in your own brainstorming sessions.It goes without saying that producing exceptional new products requires the convergence of great minds, proven science, and creativity. Understanding the customer is the first step of the design thinking process. Successful, well-organized collaboration, and ideation are essential to move a project from concept to prototype, and through production while meeting price, performance, and time-to-market objectives. Managing a room full of bright minds from different disciplines is difficult, but when skillfully directed, the results can be remarkable.

At KMC, we know that creating an innovative product that is viable from a business perspective, feasible from a technological perspective, and desirable from a human perspective, requires a listen-and-learn approach. Specifically, our medical device design and development team starts the design thinking process by pulling together customer needs and wants, followed by deeper research into the end user. These “empathizing” and “defining” stages of design thinking afford us the critical understanding of the customer and clear definition of the problem, which allow us to continue to the next phases. 

More than a brainstorming session, the ideation stage of our design thinking process is a focused, proven, and well-managed collaboration of experts working together as a team, matching prospective solutions to existing challenges.  Through a series of exercises, team members use the customer needs, challenges, and goals to rapidly ideate and build upon the ideas of their peers. It’s a mix of group debate and individual thinking, allowing for equal contributions from introverts and extroverts alike.

The ideation session facilitator ensures everyone is on topic and on task, with the intent of generating as many ideas as possible. Though the size of the ideation group varies, it’s usually best to have between five and ten people, preferably of different disciplines.  The mix may include only engineers of varying technical roles, however each project is unique, and each group can be tailored to that specific customer project. By mixing inputs and brainpower from different technical and professional backgrounds, we can think past “low-hanging fruit” to form more innovative solutions. One important rule to remember during ideation: there are no bad ideas. When a team member’s idea runs out of steam, it may gain new life with the help of a colleague’s perspective. The give and take of free and creative thoughts between the team members is the engine that powers innovation.

To promote creative thinking by making the process more visual, the team enters “interplay” and uses white boards and Post-it Notes to group together similar ideas, drawing lines from one idea to another, reconfiguring and categorizing Post-it Notes as conceptual connections occur. In addition to building on each other’s ideas to evolve a concept, the team will also generate quick and simple models to identify potential problems and to obtain feedback from the customer early on — well before burning through valuable time and resources.

Innovation doesn’t come easy, particularly when we’re conceiving something that’s entirely new and state-of-the-art. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for an ideation team to diverge before they eventually converge. Though we may begin with a variety of diverse ideas and approaches, through focused collaboration we arrive at well-visualized, innovative concepts that are worthy of the medical device design and development that follow. 

In a future blog post, we’ll explain how ideas conceived during our design thinking process are further refined through a series of KMC prototyping stages that progress from foam/cardboard mock-ups, to computer-aided models, and finally, to working prototypes.

 About the Author

Jo-ann Loh is a product development engineer at KMC Systems, where she designs medical diagnostic equipment while focusing on usability, reliability, and manufacturability. She earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

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