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Dave Anderson of Healthsense had been aware of Protomold for several years before becoming a customer, but has since become a fan of the company and First Cut Prototype, divisions of Proto Labs.

About three years ago Anderson went to Protomold’s website and took a closer look at Protoquote, the company’s free online quoting tool.

‘I uploaded a Cad model to Protoquote and was very impressed with what I got back,’ he said.

‘Within a day I had a detailed, interactive online price quote along with feedback on the mouldability and design of my model.

‘While viewing the quote, I could adjust parameters like finish, resin, and part quantity and the pricing changed to reflect the new input as I watched.

‘Protomold let me submit designs and through its Protoquote 3D viewer they pointed out areas where I could adjust and improve the design.’ Healthsense, located in Minnesota, US, is involved with senior living facilities providing independent living and assisted living services.

Healthsense Integrated Solutions provide facility-wide Wi-Fi coverage, wireless nurse call, ADL monitoring, fall detection, access control and wander management.

The company’s Eneighbor system is an automated emergency response system that helps individuals remain in their homes.

‘The goal of our technology is to provide the highest level of service to residents while holding down costs to the facility and the social service systems,’ said vice president of research and development Dan Vatland.

‘Our core technology involves active sensing of signals from an emergency call pendant worn by the resident.

‘Within a care facility, the pendant sends out a radio frequency signal and the location of the resident can be determined by triangulation across multiple Wi-Fi access points.

‘The request for help is then forwarded over the internet to the Healthsense 24-hour data centres.

‘The request is then transmitted back to on-site responders and monitored at the data centre.’ In 2006, Healthsense rolled out Eneighbor with a grant from NIH (National Institutes of Health, US).

Under this programme, various kinds of sensors – motion sensors, chair sensors, bed sensors and contact sensors – are placed around the user’s home or apartment to monitor the user’s activities.

‘We first used Protomold in 2007 when we introduced the Eneighbor system,’ said Dave Anderson.

‘We knew we would be redesigning the product fairly quickly, so we didn’t want to invest in expensive steel moulds, but we needed a product we could take to market.

‘We had Protomold make shells for 1,000 pendants, including several parts for each of two slightly different versions.

‘Protomold was able to deliver them quickly and at an affordable price, allowing us to introduce the product while we were still fine tuning the design.

‘That was when we started working with the quick-turn CNC machining division of Proto Labs called First Cut Prototype.’ ‘We hadn’t used First Cut before, but we had received emails about their service,’ said Dan Vatland.

‘We needed prototypes we could test for functionality, but we only needed five sets of parts, and First Cut seemed like the ideal source.

‘The price was reasonable, they could produce parts in as little as one day and parts had all the characteristics we needed for functional testing.

‘First Cut’s machined prototypes cost a little more than FDM (fused deposition modelling), but it was easy to justify the difference in price.

‘First Cut offers a wide variety of materials, and their polycarbonate material was very similar to the production material we planned to use.

‘That allowed us to do things such as perform the emissions testing required by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission, US), which we wouldn’t have been able to do with FDM prototypes.’ The working prototypes from First Cut were thoroughly tested.

Since the devices being designed are made for critical applications, Healthsense had to look very carefully at every aspect of its operation.

The shell of the new device consists of multiple parts: the front and back halves of the shell and a battery clip.

It was a complex design with snaps and clips, and details such as water tightness also had to be confirmed.

Screws would need to hold and circuit boards would have to be held tight within the shell.

As First Cut’s parts – the shell segments of the pendant – comprise much of the interface between the device and its users, Healthsense were able to obtain information on both ‘look and feel’ and real-world performance.

‘Used together, First Cut and Protomold gave us the ability to very quickly get our prototype and low-volume production parts made in a wide range of resins at reasonable prices,’ said Anderson.

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