Machines that use fluid-handling systems can take advantage of communicating couplers (see "The Rise of Intelligent Fluid Connectors"). Below are three connection-related problems that were overcome in actual equipment.
Printing Ink Piracy
For a number of years, a manufacturer of high-volume inkjet printers and proprietary inks enjoyed robust sales. The printers were known for high speed and superb print quality, primarily due to the unique properties of proprietary inks that were free-flowing, fast-drying, and nonfading. Eventually, however, equipment problems began to emerge. Machines malfunctioned due to clogged print heads, printing quality plunged, and ink sales dropped precipitously.
Upon investigation, the manufacturer found that customers had switched to a third-party ink supplier that was refilling the company’s branded containers with cheaper, inferior inks. To prevent ink substitution and protect ink sales, equipment performance, and brand reputation, the manufacturer equipped printers and ink containers with communicating fluid connectors. Users now instantly know when a container with non-approved ink connects to a printer. Machines are programmed to either alert the operator or prevent printer operation.
Each ink container comes equipped with an RF read/write tag that communicates data about its color, authenticity, date of manufacture, and remaining volume. With these connectors, the printer manufacturer protects its ink sales, facilitates warranty management, and supports its premium brand position. Users enjoy trouble-free machines that eliminate bad print runs.
Medical-Lab Testing Errors
A manufacturer of advanced blood-analysis machines used in hundreds of laboratories across the country also supplies various bottled reagents. The specific fluids to be used with a machine depend on the test to be run. Machine operators must ensure that they connect the right reagent container to the machine, verify that the material is not past its expiration date, and the bottle contains enough reagent to complete the necessary tests without interruption. Barcodes on the bottles weren’t sufficient because they had no ability to write information back to the bottles.
Adding wireless-communication capability to the fluid connectors on machines and reagent bottles let the blood analyzer alert the operator if an inappropriate reagent is about to be connected. The read/write connector on the machine can also read the RF tag on the bottle and determine if the reagent is outdated or might otherwise jeopardize the machine or the test. Information written to a container’s tag also lets the analyzer’s controller keep track of the amount of solution remaining in a bottle and the number of additional tests that can be run.
Patient Safety and Record-Keeping
Specialized machines involved in delicate eye surgery were designed with two tubing connections—one for compressed air that powers a cutting device, and one for the saline solution used for eye irrigation. The machines often run in low-light surgical settings, posing a danger of inadvertently misconnecting the air and saline solution lines—and injuring the patient or damaging the machine.
To prevent misconnections, the OEM incorporated wireless read/write capability in the fluid-connector bodies on the machine and read/write RF tags on the air and saline lines. Thus, the manufacturer eliminated misconnection issues and reduced patient risk. In addition, machine users were able to gather important data for automated medical record-keeping, such as date/time of use, duration of the procedure, and fluid consumption.
Dennis Downs is Director of Business Development, New Technologies, at Colder Products Co. (CPC), St. Paul, Minn.