Protolabs’ automated tools speed up iterative development for vital medical cooling unit
Sweden’s BrainCool is an innovative medical technology company that develops products for medical cooling in the event of stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, oral mucositis, migraine and traumatic brain injury. In 2018, the company PolarCool was spun off from BrainCool, to specialize in medical cooling in areas of sports and athletics.
BrainCool's products are used by trained healthcare professionals. PolarCool's PolarCap® System, on the other hand, has been developed with the aim of quickly lowering the brain temperature in a controlled manner following head trauma, directly at the sports facility where the injury occured.
Concussions common in sports
Unfortunately, every year a large number of athletes suffer from head trauma, not least in physical team sports such as football, rugby, martial arts and ice hockey.
Athletes often have elevated body and brain temperature when they exercise and if they injure their head, the higher temperature risks exacerbating any brain damage. The best thing in such a situation is to be able to quickly lower the temperature of the brain, so-called hypothermia, in the same way as you put ice on a muscle injury. The difference is that lowering the temperature of the brain must take place under controlled conditions because an excessively fast lowering, for example through ice bath, risks making any damage worse.
The PolarCap System consists of a helmet and a portable cooling unit, which means that it can easily be used directly at the sports facility, or at the place where the injury occured, even by those who are not medically trained. The advantage of the PolarCap System is also that it can be used for preventive purposes even when concussions are only suspected, until the athlete has been able to visit a doctor for a check-up, even if it later turns out that no injury has occurred.
Cooling as a treatment method for concussions has been shown to generate positive effects in most studies, both experimental and clinical. The PolarCap System has been evaluated in a large clinical study in ice hockey where the results show that the recovery time for treated players is significantly shortened. Notable, and perhaps even more important, was that the results showed a significant reduction (over 70 per cent) in long absences among players who received cold treatment. The product is used today by the Swedish Hockey League, among others, and since the 2018/2019 season, there are two PolarCap Systems at every match.
Erik Andersson is the CEO of PolarCool. He is a former elite hockey player who, due to repeated concussions, was forced to hang his skates up. He sees a great need for this type of solution in many sports. PolarCool already has a numbers of users in Europe, including the German champion club Adler Mannheim, the Swiss Zurich SC and HC Davos. In addition, an agreement has recently been entered into with Swedish elite football club Hammarby Football, which will include the use of the PolarCap System in its routines for concussions.
“We see great potential for the PolarCap System, in a number of sports around the world. Unfortunately, it is common for players and practitioners to get hit in the head and the research results speak for themselves” said Erik Andersson, CEO of PolarCool. “For elite athletes, as I was, it is extremely important to reduce the effects of repeated concussions. In addition, it is positive for both the individual and the club if the player can return to play earlier, both from a health and financial perspective. The results show that the PolarCap System improves the chances.”
Iterative digital design process
The design product agency OIM Sweden, was commissioned to design and develop the PolarCap System and they have worked closely with Protolabs to find the optimal design for the injection moulded housing for the PolarCap System’s cooling unit. Today, it is important for design engineers to quickly and easily arrive at the best design solutions and bring products to market. Protolabs’ own automated quotation solution means that the customer uploads their CAD design via their website, and receives direct feedback regarding productivity and cost, and have prototypes delivered in as little as one day.
“Thanks to Protolabs’ automated tool, we discovered at an early stage that the first design, with the cover cast as a single part, would not be possible to manufacture, because it was too large for the injection moulding machines,” said Arash Golshenas, co-founder and CTO at OIM. “This is something you really want to find out early in development, rather than right at the end, just before the product is to go into production. “
OIM used Protolabs’ automated tools throughout the iterative innovation process, to find optimal solutions. At the end of the process, there were also opportunities to discuss in detail with the company’s experienced technical experts, which also facilitated the project.
Arash explained: “With the online tool, we could always follow the cost implications, depending on our design. Improvements in one area of the design sometimes cause problems somewhere else. By being able to see the consequences of the changes, it was possible to create an optimal design. It was also a clear advantage to have Protolabs’ technical experts to discuss with in detail, towards the end of the project.”
“We chose Protolabs because they are fast and efficient and can deliver prototypes really quickly. There is no one who beats them when it comes to injection moulding. The development of the product took place in the middle of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, so it was also important not to have a development partner too far away. When the world is worried, it is safer to have solutions close to home.” Arash said.
PolarCool's CEO Erik Andersson concluded: “The development work has been crucial in creating a good product that can be used at arenas and by non-healthcare professionals, and is also cost-effective to manufacture. We are very pleased with how the collaboration with Protolabs has worked and they have met all our requirements.”