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issue: December 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Medical Appliances
Sophisticated Sidekick


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by Erin Biesen, Associate Editor

Home Diagnostics, Inc. looked to Texas Instruments to help create a small high performance, inexpensive single chip for a disposable glucose meter.

Home Diagnostics worked with Texas Instruments when it wanted to create a compact, disposable glucose meter.

Currently, the glucose meters that Home Diagnostics, Inc. (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.) offer are about the size of a cell phone. The company conceived of shrinking it to about the size of a half dollar and putting it on a vial of test strips to create a travel-size glucose meter that could be disposed of when the consumer had used all of the test strips.
The changes needed were substantial. “The electronics we had been using inside in larger meters included several chips: a microcontroller, an analog front-end chip, a power supply chip, and a temperature sensor,” relates Gary Neel vice president of research and development. The company looked to several suppliers for the components of the new, smaller meter. “We realized that Texas Instruments was the best fit for us due to its technology capability, expertise in mixed signal analog and digital design, and the management team, which is very good at execution.”
Texas Instruments established a very aggressive schedule by industry norms to help get the product to market quickly. Home Diagnostics had samples of the application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) within 6 months.
Texas Instruments already had the MSP430 CPU (central processing unit) core, which is an ultra-low power 16-bit MCU, and it also had the analog and digital blocks that needed to be integrated. Analog blocks typically include A/Ds (analog to digital converters), D/A (digital to analog converters) and signal conditioning, and digital blocks typically include CPU, serial interfaces, memory (Flash, RAM) and timers.
Now all the parts had to be put all together on a single chip. “One challenge at the beginning was to understand exactly how the signal chain would go and all the characteristics needed of the system,” says Juan Alvarez, marketing manager for the Dallas, Texas, U.S.-based chip supplier.
Within 9 months Texas Instruments had sample chips ready for Home Diagnostics. Alvarez says, “I clearly remember that it was almost like a Christmas gift. It was Dec. 22 when I delivered two sample chips so that Home Diagnostics could actually look at them for the first time.”
“We had finished production chips in 9 months to a year. After production of the chips we started product scale-up and we were done with the project in 16 months total, which for a medical product is very quick,” Neel tells APPLIANCE.
Another successful aspect of the process was that the companies worked in parallel to make sure they met the deadlines. “There were a lot of different elements that are important to working together. One is to have an evaluation board; the other is to have a product-ready board (and that they) work in parallel with each other,”
says Alvarez. “For example, Home Diagnostics completely set up all the test hardware needed for the chip before the chip itself was even ready.” Processes like this helped get the product qualified and to market on time.
The biggest development obstacle was the price factor. The complete glucose meter with test strips needed to be inexpensive enough to be disposable but still allow for the company to make money on it.
The chip, the MSP430 from Texas Instruments, provides all the hardware capabilities Home Diagnostics needed for the product. It has a high precision analog front end so it can read the strips, a LCD driver for the display, it has small size, it’s disposable, and it is low-power so that the batteries last as long as the customer needs to get through the supply of strips.
The Sidekick product has experienced nothing but success since it was introduced in the summer of 2005. Neel says, “Walgreens and CVS co-brand the product. They actually want their name on the product because they trust it, which is saying a lot.”

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Texas Instruments
 

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