We were recently invited by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) to check out what Taiwanese medical device manufacturers and organizations are up to. Many of them will be promoting their wares at the Medicare Taiwan international medical & healthcare exhibition next month in Taipei City. The annual event brings together thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of attendees, including clinicians, hospital administrators, manufacturers, investors, and biomedical engineers.
Our first stop was at Hiwin Technologies Corporation in the city of Taichung. The company is not known in the medical field, but it has decided to throw a lot of its engineering know-how toward developing new medical devices.
Hiwin is a big name within the manufacturing space, specifically famous for its ball screws that are used in all sorts of devices to accurately move things back and forth on a linear track. Some of its parts, for example, are used in the Elekta Gamma Knife radiosurgery system.
Hiwin holds 2,000 patents, employs 500 engineers at seven R&D centers, and produces everything from ball bearings to industrial robots at its six factories, generating $500 million in revenue. They showed us their first products that the company recently developed that are aimed at the rehab and patient care markets.
Utilizing expertise in precise motion control, Hiwin’s lower body rehabilitation system is able to move patient’s legs with millimeter precision. The system can be programmed and adjusted to help patients with a variety of motor conditions such as from stroke, musculoskeletal, or other neurological diseases. Hiwin’s system is able to track the heart and respiratory rates, charting them and adjusting accordingly. The company is working on integrating electromyography sensors to make the system responsive to electrical muscle activity. The hope is to provide assistance to the legs exactly when the patient makes the effort to move them, hopefully letting it work harmoniously with each unique patient.
Hiwin previewed for us their new endoscopic robotic system, which they think will offer high precision robotic capabilities without the enormous cost of current systems (think Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci). Here’s a video of the system in action.
A major factor to that happening, as the company officials grudgingly confirmed, is the long and expensive regulatory path required by the FDA and other regulatory agencies before introducing it in most places that can afford high tech medicine.
The bathtub that Hiwin developed is in response to the attempts to make it easier on clinical staff to take care of patients, as well as the demographic aging going on in Taiwan and many other nations around the world. The electronic motorized tub can be wheeled directly to the patient bedside and aligned to make it easier to move non-ambulatory patients in and out. The whole thing can almost do barrel rolls to get the patients sideways to make it easy to wash the back side. Of course, there’s also a TV screen built in to take the attention away from the washing.
Following showing off their new medical products, the Hiwin folks showed us a bunch of intricate mechanical components, robotic arms, actuators, and all sorts of devices that are used behind the scenes and deep within all kinds of machines that we rely on on a daily basis.