keyblog - Our thoughts on Engineering, Design, and everything else
Alexis McKenzie

Key Tech on Winning Team for 2014 MDEA Award

07.03.2014 by Alexis McKenzie

DENTSPLY Caulk’s Digit Power Dispenser won a Silver Award at this year’s  MDEA Awards in New York City. The Digit Power Dispenser won the award in the Dental Instruments, Equipment and Supplies category, as it was recognized for enabling dentists to precisely and quickly place impression material. Key Tech was an integral part of this team, as we designed the product and performed usability engineering. Key Tech is no stranger to the MDEA Awards, as we won a Silver Award in 2007 for design of the UltraCrit, a point of care blood hematocrit diagnostic device.

Andy Rogers (far left) of Key Tech, poses with members of DENTSPLY Caulk and Nordson EFD

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Josh Mull

World Cup Goes High Tech

06.23.2014 by Josh Mull

It only took 4 days for the 2014 Fifa World Cup’s newest high tech toy to be put on display.  During the France –Honduras game, French player Karim Benzema’s shot bounced off one of the goalposts and began to skip across the goal mouth.  As the Honduran goalkeeper scrambled to keep the ball out of the net, fans both in person and at home were left wondering; did the ball cross the goal line?  For the first time in a World Cup, technology was able to answer the question.  The referee ruled decisively it was a goal, and France went on to win the game 3-0.
Using GoalControl’s 4D system, a series of cameras mounted high in the stadium monitor both goals.  Each goal has 7 cameras focused on it, covering all angles and all scenarios where player’s bodies may block the field of view.  Using complex image processing servers, the video streams from these cameras are merged and analyzed in real time, with a “goal/no-goal” result beamed to the referee in under a second.  It is an impressing feat of technology, and one where Key Tech understands the many challenges.  Past work in real time image processing has taught us where the difficulties in such a system lies.  This includes the processing power and bandwidth for full color video, variations in uncontrolled light sources, and algorithm development to isolate the data of interest.  GoalControl has developed a fast and well proven system that overcomes all three of these challenges, and makes both the referee’s and the fan’s job a little bit easier.

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Andy Rogers

Key Tech Supplier to 2014 MDEA Finalist

04.09.2014 by Andy Rogers

DENTSPLY Caulk’s Digit Power Dispenser is a 2014 MDEA Finalist, recognized for enabling dentists to precisely and quickly place impression material. Key Tech designed the product and performed usability engineering. This is the second MDEA nomination for products designed by Key Tech, having previously been recognized for the outstanding design of the UltraCrit, a point of care blood hematocrit diagnostic device.

Click here to meet us at the awards ceremony on June 11 at the 2014 MD&M Show at the Javits Center in New York City.

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Melanie Springer

How to Nurture Today’s Young Engineer

03.10.2014 by Melanie Springer

I graduated from the University of Maryland less than a year ago with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering.  Having had five prior internships, I had been exposed to a variety of work environments in the industry, each with their own take on introductory training programs and corporate structure.  After the struggles I faced with each, I naively thought I had figured out what I was looking for in a full-time position.  But after eight months at Key Tech, it turns out it can be even better than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Key Tech Way and Why it Works

#KTdiversity   Interdisciplinary projects.  Collaborative study.  Cooperative learning.  Universities have come up with all kinds of terms to express the value of working in groups with varied educations and experiences, but this initiative has yet to fully make it’s way over into industry.  Where Ye Olde Engineering company may still be operating under a corporate structure that separates it’s ME’s from it’s EE’s from it’s PM’s, Key Tech teams are a cross-section of all disciplines, which gives all engineers (and young engineers especially) a better perspective on what’s going on in a project outside your own cubicle.  Cubicles are boring anyways.  That’s why Key Tech doesn’t have them.

#KTtransparency  Similar to being “in the know” with what’s going on in a project, Key Tech is extremely transparent on a corporate level.  And not only do all the employees know the development plan for the company, they are encouraged to voice opinions and play an active part in its growth.  As a new graduate, this is completely unheard of.  On my first day, I shook hands with each of Key Tech’s four founders.  Anywhere else, the closest you might get to your company’s founder would be their office door.  Office doors are annoying, too.  Key Tech doesn’t have those either.

#KTfaithandtrust  There is a longstanding “Key Techism” that describes your first few months on the job as “drinking out of a fire hose.”  At another job, your first months would likely be jam-packed with back-to-back trainings.  That’s because rather than taking the time to look at your educational background and figure out what you know, companies choose to operate under the safe assumption that you know nothing.  At Key Tech, new employees are entrusted with real, impactful work from day 1.  If you’ve survived the highly-selective hiring process, you’re cleared to play.  Don’t get me wrong: it’s a tough game, but the learning curve is straight up. Key Tech encourages you to bite off more than you can chew, and grow really really fat.  (With knowledge?)

#KTfamily  Uncontested, the most unique thing about Key Tech is the nurturing environment it provides.  Whether it is support on a project, professional advice, a good book recommendation, or a jumpstart for your car, someone’s got you covered.  As a young engineer, I suddenly had access to decades of combined professional experience and expertise, that has been invaluable as I’ve learned to design for unfamiliar manufacturing processes and analyze problems with new computer simulation software.  And because everyone else has been through the same training “program,” all are more than willing to help.

Like the design process, Key Tech is a truly amorphous and beautiful thing.  As a team, we trust in each other, not in a preapproved process from upper management.  For new engineers, the entire company shares the responsibility of training and nurturing growth, and I couldn’t feel my development was left in more capable hands.

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Michael Damiani

Solution Through Evolution

11.20.2013 by Michael Damiani

Faced with a tough engineering design challenge? A similar problem may have already been solved. And not by someone who owns IP on the idea. I’m talking about Mother Nature.

The earth has had 4.5 billion years to come up with some pretty clever—and often remarkably efficient—solutions to some very complex and fairly difficult problems. Many of the problems we face as engineers and product designers may have a parallel in the natural world that we can draw inspiration from, especially if we’re stumped on a tough challenge. Echoes of nature’s engineering might at first be more apparent in fields like biomedical sciences and pharmaceuticals, but the natural world has encountered its fair share of design challenges, and has evolved plenty of great solutions that those of us in product development can respect—and in fact, many have inspired products that exist today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most well known examples is Velcro. Inspired by burrs, a type of seed, the straps that held your light-up shoes on your feet when you were six years old use the same technology that enables certain plant species to latch onto the fur of passing animals. The hooked teeth on burrs latch onto fibers or hair to entangle themselves in fur, allowing the plant’s seeds to spread via bypassing wildlife. In 1948, George de Mestral noticed the strong hold the burrs had on his clothing and his dog’s coat during a hunting trip, and took advantage of the technology to invent Velcro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A similar example—though earlier in its design stage, currently—is Geckskin. Also dubbed “Gecko tape” by some, the technology is an adhesive that takes advantage of the sticking properties of the limbs of one of the world’s best climbers. Geckos have millions of tiny flexible bristles on their hands and feet called “setae.” When the gecko walks, the setae contact the walking surface with such close proximity and with such a great surface area that noticeable Van der Waals forces are present, allowing the gecko to climb up vertical walls. Geckskin uses the same principles by mimicking the properties of the setae synthetically to create a tape that can withstand hundreds of pounds of force, but peel off without any residue. A word to duct tape: beware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applied solutions inspired by the natural world don’t only happen on physically small scales. In fact, they can be as big as a train—the Shinkansen Bullet Train. The engineers at Shinkansen Lines in western Japan had an issue. They had built the world’s busiest high-velocity train. Then they got it to travel at over 200 mph. But this high speed has an effect when traveling through tunnels, specifically when exiting—a massive sonic boom. Not a pleasant commuting experience. A bird watching engineer at Shinkansen noticed the grace with which Japanese Kingfisher birds dive into the water with nary a splash, and was motivated to turn the nose of his train into the shape of a Kingfisher beak. Not only did the noise significantly reduce, but the trains also became over 15% more efficient.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, we can find nature-inspired tech combating bacteria and health risks via the products from Sharklet Technologies. The skin of their namesake species contains a microscopic, diamond, scaly pattern of “dermal denticles.” This pattern prevents bacteria and other microorganisms from making a home on the shark’s skin. The company now employs this technology as a treatment or surface finish for products in the medical industry, to reduce health and contamination risks.

So, trying to solve a tough design problem? Try taking a hike or going for a swim, and appreciate the ingenuity of nature. You might find inspiration from the world’s oldest, and best, R&D department.

All images courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation.

 

 

 

 

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Ben Lane

Face to Face

11.06.2013 by Ben Lane

In an age when office mates bridge the 10 foot communication chasm between their desks with email and text messages, Key Tech actively recruits engineers and designers that enjoy and excel at the lost art of face-to-face communication. Two weeks ago, Mariano (a mechanical engineer at Key Tech) and I “took one for the team” and headed to Stockholm, Sweden for two days of meetings. I have family in Sweden and spent a lot of time in the country as a kid, and was looking forward to testing my forgotten fluency and for the opportunity to meet our Swedish contacts in person. For the past year, we have been working with a company in Stockholm that designs and manufactures pumps for a wide range of industries. Their pump is at the heart of a medical product that Key Tech is developing for a global client. The pump is a critical component with a direct impact on both the durable and disposable elements of the product. The instrument development is currently in the “beta” stage, when we typically make our final design changes of significance, so we must ensure that the pump design is on target.

Key Tech requested significant customization of the beta pump design to address performance and human factors requirements that are unique to the product. For the past several months, design concepts have traveled back and forth across the Atlantic via email and phone using solid models, PowerPoint slides, and hand sketches. Calculations and testing have occurred on both continents, with results communicated to the rest of the team in weekly conference calls. The Swedes speak excellent English so the language barrier is a minor concern; however, communication of a complicated design and maintenance of a relationship between two companies across 4,000 miles of ocean is challenging – signals can get crossed, words can be misinterpreted and critical schedule and performance can suffer as a result. Our visit to Sweden was focused on mitigating those risks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After an uneventful flight, we arrived at the hotel shortly after breakfast, Stockholm time, caught a quick nap, and headed to the meeting site by lunch. The weather was unseasonably warm; a real plus this time of year in Stockholm. The afternoon consisted of introductions, a facility tour, and a review of the prototypes that we and the pump vendor developed in preparation for the meetings. The ability to sit in the same room and collaboratively interact with the prototype hardware was invaluable. The discussions and brainstorming of features and design aspects of the pump assembly accomplished more in several hours than we would have achieved in a week of email correspondence and teleconferences.

The second day consisted of more technical discussions and conversations related to QC, reliability, checkout procedures, labeling and serialization, and other topics associated with the details of design, fabrication, and support of a critical component in a medical device. The meeting concluded with a discussion of design and fabrication schedule for the beta pumps, and a summary of action items for all parties. We wrapped up the meeting in time to visit the Vasa Museum that contains a 15th century ship that sank on its maiden voyage out of Stockholm. The ship was incredibly well preserved in the mud in the archipelago of islands in the Baltic Sea near Stockholm, thanks to a combination of factors including the brackish water near Stockholm and a high level of pollutants in the mud. After visiting the museum we were treated to a spectacular dinner high on a bluff overlooking the city of Stockholm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we departed Stockholm early the following morning on the high speed train to the airport, gliding along quietly at 130 mph, Mariano and I reflected on the 2 days of meetings, content in the knowledge that we had achieved our goal of establishing a solid technical pump design and a realistic schedule agreed upon by all parties. We also solidified our relationship with the pump vendor; an asset that will be invaluable as the project progresses and challenges arise, as invariably occurs on complex projects like this. These goals were achieved in only two days as a direct result of face-to-face communication and hands-on interaction with the hardware. The luxury of looking our counterparts in the eye, listening to their tone of voice, and reading their body language is a vital part of communication that seems to be lacking in many professional interactions today.  We plan to keep this art alive at Key Tech.

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Chet Larrow

Neon Lights and Bullet Trains: Contextual Inquiry in Japan

10.17.2013 by Chet Larrow

Understanding user needs is essential for any product development cycle, and when a product is aimed toward a foreign market and end user, it’s that much more significant.  That’s why Key Tech recently took part in several in-field studies across the country of Japan. The purpose of the study was to observe the users’ workflows in their natural setting, while asking pertinent questions in order to understand the users’ thought processes and product requirements.  While there were certain cultural aspects relevant to the project that needed to be observed firsthand, there were also a few cultural customs necessary to follow when participating in the site visits that challenged us as American product designers.

First, it was required at every location to remove our dress shoes upon entering the buildings and replace them with a pair of ill-fitting slippers.  Wearing dark suits with white foam slippers initially had a strange feeling and fashion, but after a few visits it became more customary.  Often times we were presented with a pair that was many sizes too small and narrow.  We made do, and gave the Japanese associates a good smile.  Designers should take note that the shoehorn is alive and well in Japan…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secondly, before meeting with the intended end users, it was customary to be introduced to the head of the department/organization first.  This usually involved a quick exchange of business cards with an explanation for the reason of the visit.  Upon finishing introductions, an exchange of bows would take place before moving on to meet with the scheduled end users.  These meetings would again begin with formal two-handed exchanges of business cards and bows before beginning our contextual inquiry session.  One can never have too many business cards in Japan.

And lastly, the need for a translator was new for conducting user sessions.  In the days leading up to the planned site visits the involved parties made sure to prioritize and clarify the questions to be asked.  It was an important task to make sure that our questions were clearly understood by the translator, before arriving at any of the sites.  When conducting the user sessions it took another level of concentration and awareness, as often times the user would be speaking while the translator was translating in parallel.

Following the few days of site visits, I took to the streets, temples, and soccer matches of Japan in order to experience firsthand more of this fascinating culture so different from my own.  While it was all new to me, the obvious structured Japanese way of life made for a pleasant and carefree exploration.  From lining up to board trains at designated locations to meticulously waiting for the cross walk signal to indicate it’s time to walk, everything seemed to have a thoughtful way of conducting the action.  Riding public transportation was clean, quiet, and efficient, a somewhat different experience than my experiences in the US.  It was astounding at how frequent and on-time trains rolled in and out of the stations and not to mention the number of different train designs.  Doors that fold open, raised conductor cockpits, 70s style upholstered seats—the level of visual stimuli for a designer was excessive!  The same can be said about what was seen above ground. There is an immense level of engineering put into the raised expressways and the longest suspension bridge in the world, which contrasts with the well preserved age-old temples and castles that are design and engineering marvels in their own right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On final reflection of my field study in Japan I can only describe my time as experiencing ‘organized energy’.  Even though the trip seemed fast paced at times, the customary Japanese business and societal practices around everything from meeting with end users and communicating ideas, to learning to line up to board public transportation lessoned the frenetic pace around me.  I was able to focus my attention on appreciating historical and modern design features both in the business and tourist areas.  The juxtaposition of predictable order amid the commotion helped to revitalize my attention to detail, which is an essential skill for the Key Tech designer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Andre Minoli

3D Printed Revolution

09.19.2013 by Andre Minoli

It’s the year 2013, we survived the Mayan apocalypse, and if you’re keeping count, we’re supposed to have hover-boards and flying-cars in 2 years – at least according to Back to the Future Part II. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don’t think that one is going to happen soon. But I have better news; we’re developing something far more exciting and unimaginably limitless — a replicator straight out of Star Trek! I’m talking about 3D printers: devices and services which allow you to design and build your own products, craft experiences catered specifically to meet your design needs, and make your ideas directly from your home without ever having to stock parts. The third industrial revolution is here and it’s something to get really excited about.

Have you ever wondered how that fancy smart phone in your hand was produced? The one with tolerances measured in microns, mono-crystalline diamond-cut edges, and sleek metallic finish? What did it take to develop it? One million dollars? One-hundred million dollars? How do these products come about and who is the team behind them? I think about these things all the time! It’s my job and passion to do so. I’m a Product Designer, and with the help of a talented team of engineers and designers, we design and develop the products that you use.

When I introduce myself to strangers, there is always an initial awe about my profession “Oh, I didn’t know that was a thing” followed by what I call the “confession” as if I were some therapist, a complete stranger will divulge to me, their most closely guarded secret – the key to success, an idea for a product so grand that it will change the world. It has been cooking in their head for ages, looking for a way into your hands. Sometimes the ideas are solutions to common frustrations, other times they are additions to other products (think iPhone cases with built in wallets). What they are doesn’t really matter, the point is everyone has at some point experienced a frustration with a product and devised a clever solution to it, but not many people know what to do with that solution. If they do know, they are intimidated by the steep investment required to get it off the ground and into your hands.

It used to be, not too long ago, that if you had an idea for a new product, the only way to develop it required the following: Money, lots of it… a solid and thought out business strategy, carefully crafted to eliminate risk and attract investors, a team of researchers to explore market opportunities, industrial designers and engineers to design and tool your parts, a factory in which to manufacture your product, a warehouse to stock your order from the factory, more money, and finally loads of time in which your competition could overtake you.  Product development was a risky business for an individual.

Today things are different – this movement is about empowering you. As we navigate through this third industrial revolution, you will start to see more and more opportunities to take the lead and develop your idea virtually risk free. Walk into a UPS store in San Diego, California (and soon everywhere) and you will notice a 3D printer or Chicago’s The 3D Print Experience where they will teach you how to use the software and print your idea. There are also a ton of websites dedicated to the market, such as inventables.com, where you can purchase everything needed for your at-home factory, or shapeways.com, which lets you upload a database and sell 3D prints of your work. No need to worry about stocking or minimum orders; these products get made on demand and ship directly from the source.

I’ll admit, 3D printing is in its very infancy, limited in materials, size and complexity.  For example, you might be able to print a phone, but of course it would be an unusable model. This is because the printers cannot assemble electronic components. At the moment, I use one of the services listed above to make simple products like jewelry and small plastic toys. But where some see limits, others see potential. “What use is a newborn baby?” retorts Benjamin Franklin in response to the question “what possible use are balloons?” This technology will mature fast and in unexpected ways – 3D printed batteries? Circuit boards? Sure, why not. Did you know that we have successfully 3D printed Living Aortic Heart Valves? In ten years we expect to print a whole living beating human heart – let that one sink in and it’s easy to get excited about the future – 20 years from now, the experience of anticipation one must get from queuing up outside of an apple store for an iPhone midnight launch will be replaced by one of excitement as you watch your iPhone slowly emerge and take form in a pool of black liquid inside the belly of your replicator.

If your idea requires more resolution than a current 3D printer can offer, then take it to kickstarter.com, a launching pad for ideas backed by crowd-funding – entice the crowd, and you get funded. A great example is Scott Wilsons Tik Tok – Scott saw the opportunity to transform apples iPod nano into a watch by building a case and straps for it. His goal was to raise $15,000 to cover the cost of tooling.  By the end of the campaign, Scott had Kickstarter’s most successful product to date – bringing in close to one million dollars from 13,500 backers. This is even more astonishing when you learn that 76% of those backers bought apples iPod nano just for the wristband. It’s a rare example of an accessory generating sales of the core product. Today you can find the Tik Tok at apple stores across the world.

I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who proposes an idea to me – product development is no longer limited to those with experience and capital. Today you can have a product in a global market in literally less than a day. You have all the tools necessary to bring your ideas to life – You’re the designer now, and there has never been a better time to be a designer. If your project leans more on paving new ground with complex electromechanical systems, think, blood hematocrit meters or DNA analyzers, then I encourage you to engage with Key Tech. We excel at product development, especially when dealing with innovative technologies.

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Eric Schneider

Low Volume Manufacturing in the Medical Industry

08.29.2013 by Eric Schneider

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak at the Defense Materials, Manufacturing and Infrastructure (DMMI) Committee’s workshop on Low Volume Manufacturing at the National Academies in Washington DC.  The purpose of the committee is to provide support to the defense industry on various topics of interest.  Reducing costs and lead times is always a priority, but with the recent Sequestration budget cuts it has become an especially hot topic in the defense industry where low volume manufacturing is prevalent.   I previously wrote an article on low volume manufacturing in the medical industry and was invited to share my experiences at the workshop so they could get an outside perspective.

While I think they really appreciated and took away a lot from our experiences in the medical industry, I also learned a few things as well.  A member of GE Aviation was talking about how they have been testing using 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing for certain parts in their jet engines over the last few years.  Currently they make their fuel injectors by welding together up to 20 machined and casted parts to get the optimal air and fuel flow geometry.  This is a very labor intensive process and machining the expensive materials required to withstand jet engine temperatures results in a lot of wasted high cost material.  By using laser sintering they are able to make injectors in less time that are lighter and perform better with no expensive wasted material. Within the next three years they expect these “3D Printed” parts to be implemented in their engines with cost savings of up to $25,000 per engine.

Another member of the committee who works for the Army talked about how they are using a similar metal laser sintering technology to create mold inserts for injection molded parts.  Traditionally molds are machined from a solid block of material by milling or EDM.  By using the additive laser sintering process they are able to build the molds much faster and cheaper, especially when the molded part is very complex. Additionally, features like gates, cooling lines and venting can be built directly into the mold insert which can further save on time and cost.  While injection molding is currently used more for higher volume parts, the reduction in the cost of tooling from laser sintering molds could make it much more feasible for lower volume parts than it has been in the past.

Here at Key Tech we use similar types of additive manufacturing processes for rapid prototyping parts before production.  For the most part though cost and material issues have kept us from using them for production parts.  However, based on my experiences at this workshop it sounds like additive manufacturing technologies are continuing to improve making them viable for more than just rapid prototyping.  Who knows, maybe we’ll even have some 3D Printed parts in our next design…

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Jenny Regan

Key Tech at AACC in Houston July 30-Aug 1, 2013

07.18.2013 by Jenny Regan

Why would anyone go to sweltering Houston in late July?  Who attends an evening session on Hepatitis C infection in the US?  What does AACC mean anyway?  And when did enthusiasm over Vitamin D become a thing?

For Key Tech, the action at AACC is on the expo floor just as much as the conference sessions.  The business of diagnostics relies on orchestration of new assay science and instrument platforms, and we’re the instrument platform team.  Key Tech has contributed to more than a dozen new IVD products, ranging from blood analyzers to sample prep instruments to genetic analyzers to sample-to-answer systems.  This year we are sandwiched between Roche and Siemens, at booth number 3950.  If you’re on the floor, stop by and chat.  We will be checking in with lots of clients and partners all around the Expo, but there will always be someone at our booth to greet you.

See you in Houston!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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