Cannibalizing an Existing Device

One of the ways to develop new medical devices is to cannibalize a device that is already in use.

When working on a project for a client, I needed a robust flexible catheter with a steerable end for a proof-of-concept prototype. I could have built this from scratch; however, I would have had to locate materials, get them in-house, and build up this assembly. The cost in billable hours to build from scratch would be higher than locating and buying a used device and cannibalizing the part I needed. I suspected that what I wanted was readily available off the shelf, in some form. At first I tried to find replacement parts for small endoscopes, and found that these were limited in availability and quite expensive. I called one of my used equipment sources and found it had a pediatric bronchoscope from a German manufacturer with broken optics that was the right diameter and length for the device I wanted to prototype. The cost of this unit was about $600, which might sound like a lot, but a similar scope in good working order sells for over $2000. It was also less expensive than building the flexible component myself and charging the client for my time.

Getting the bronchoscope apart proved to be a little bit of a challenge. This unit was constructed to be watertight and quite resistant to disassembly. I had to resort to using a milling machine to carefully cut open the housing. Once I had the case open, I separated the flexible end of the bronchoscope from its case. Being able to cut open a piece of equipment like this was an education in itself, seeing how the device was constructed, how the fiber-optic bundles were laid out, how the steering actuation worked, and how it was engineered for reliability.

Once I had the flexible end of the device separated, I was able to concentrate on the more important part of the project, which was the connection mechanism between the flexible catheter and the actuation handle of the device that I was designing. This approach saved me time, gave me a reliable, high-quality steerable catheter quickly, got the device to proof-of-concept quickly, and saved the client money.

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