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Zulki's PCB Nuggets
By Zulki Khan
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Zulki’s PCB Nuggets: Smart Pills & Cameras—The Next Frontier for PCB Microelectronics
“Take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” is the proverbial, jovial, and often-cited elixir that doctors have prescribed over the years for whatever ails you. Today, medical electronics are adopting the same concept but with new technologies. Now, the phrase, “Take two aspirin,” takes on new meaning, as medical electronics move into new frontiers of inspecting a human’s gastrointestinal tract with new, revolutionary ingestible smart pills and “pill cams.” These pills are designed to monitor, diagnose, and analyze a patient’s health.
In particular, advances in imaging quality are being heralded as the very foundation of these new smart pills and cameras. Imaging has become very sharp with extremely high resolution so that doctors and other medical personnel can receive highly accurate pictures. Before, sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies have used conventional sigmoidoscopes and colonoscopes. But now, with smart pills and capsules that have high-quality imagining, patients can more easily undergo these procedures, and the physician can achieve better test results.
The advent of these new smart pills is dramatically changing the medical electronics landscape. In turn, it is advancing and challenging conventional PCB SMT assembly and manufacturing. To fully support these growing medical electronics technology trends, EMS providers must be savvy about and well-equipped with PCB microelectronics technologies, such as flip chip, chip-on-board (CoB), micro-electrical/mechanical systems (MEMS) and sensor placement, stacked wire bonding, die attach, and other associated factors.
PCB microelectronics are the key to successful future medical electronics because these extraordinarily small devices are comprised of extremely tiny cameras, sensors, MEMS, and associated components. In general, when that smart sensor in the form of a pill or capsule is ingested, it records conditions inside the body. At certain points, it gathers specific acids and chemicals in the body. The sensor is then activated and triggers a signal to transmit that information to an externally worn smart patch or to a regular iPhone or Android device.
This newer medical electronics technology hasn’t yet received considerable public attention. However, some medical companies are paving the way, such as the SmartPill™ motility capsule from Medtronic. The capsule assists in localizing transit abnormalities to a specific gastrointestinal (GI) region by collecting data from the entire GI tract . Further, the Mayo Clinic Health System offers “capsule endoscopy,” which is described on their website as a “procedure that uses a tiny wireless camera to take pictures of your digestive tract” .
These are only a couple of examples, but there are growing numbers of medical electronics entrepreneurial startups focusing on new kinds of smart pills and cameras to meet newer market demands in this arena. And while we’re at the threshold of these new medical electronics frontiers, it’s wise for EMS providers to take an inventory of their PCB assembly and manufacturing knowledge to adequately support this growing section of the medical electronics market. You can no longer rely on traditional SMT assembly and manufacturing. PCB microelectronics, along with all of its technologies, will be the main driver to create these minuscule ingestible medical electronics products.
However, there is a multitude of questions to be answered. To date, PCB technology has only been applied to products outside of the body. All that we’ve learned about PCB assembly and manufacturing is now a steppingstone into a newer—yet virtually unexplored—frontier. On the other hand, it’s not exactly starting from scratch. The PCB microelectronics knowhow we’ve gained with small external device assembly and manufacturing put us in the right direction to tackle smart pill and camera PCB microelectronics.
Now, we’re at the factfinding stage with a multitude of questions—many of which deal with microelectronics assembly materials and how the human body accepts them. For example:
- What epoxies can be used in electronics that are going inside a human body?
- What fluxes are okay to put around the image sensor?
- What cleaning requirements are there to ensure that there are no harmful effects?
In summary, an EMS company should be knowledgeable about ingestible electronic devices and pills and all the nuances associated with them. Since this is a new area, considerable research still needs to be performed to make sure that these devices give desirable results without creating harmful effects within the human body.
Zulki Khan is the president and founder of NexLogic Technologies Inc.
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