If you were to look at a 500 watt (W) enclosed switching power supply designed for medical use side-by-side with one manufactured for commercial applications, you might be able to see a meaningful difference right off the bat. They are ostensibly designed to do the same thing — deliver power to devices — so what sets apart the power supply for medical equipment?
Choosing Medical Power Supplies
The world of medicine looks different than ever before, with more devices needing more power. MedTech Europe, a trade association that represents manufacturers in the industry, estimates that there are more than 500,000 products available in the medical technology industry. The majority of these products don’t operate in a vacuum — they need the power to perform their intended functions.
Power supplies intended for medical applications may appear to be similar to their counterparts in commercial use, but the standards governing medical power supplies are much more stringent. Let’s take a look at how power supply for medical equipment is a cut above what you’ll find in other industries.
HOW DO MEDICAL POWER SUPPLIES DIFFER FROM COMMERCIAL POWER SUPPLIES?
If you were to look at a 500 watt (W) enclosed switching power supply designed for medical use side-by-side with one manufactured for commercial applications, you might be able to see a meaningful difference right off the bat. They are ostensibly designed to do the same thing — deliver power to devices — so what sets apart the power supply for medical equipment? These four qualities make a difference.
Patients are of paramount concern with every medical device. For a device to be medical grade, it has to meet the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 60601 standards. IEC 60601 standards require that medical power supplies meet rigorous safety standards in their design to ensure that patients have optimal protection. Commercial power supplies don’t have to contend with these strict requirements.
2. LONGER DESIGN CYCLE
With all the medical equipment safety standards that must be met, medical power supplies take longer to design and refine than their commercial counterparts. This is advantageous because it often means more potential issues are worked out during the design phase, and products don’t need to be replaced as often as newer iterations appear.
3. GREATER LIFE EXPECTANCY
Along with a longer design cycle comes a greater life expectancy for products. Medical professionals expect to be able to use devices and their power supplies for years before they reach the end of their usable life. Medical power supplies can take up to five years to be certified, so it makes sense to create a design that lasts at least that long in practice. Commercial power supplies, on the other hand, cost less to develop and may only last a few years.
4. MORE SUPPORT FROM THE VENDOR
Power supplies that have a longer life expectancy require more vendor support. When something goes wrong with a medical power supply or a medical professional has questions, there’s no room for wasting time trying to get a hold of the vendor. Medical-grade power supplies come with much more responsive and reliable vendor support than your average commercial devices.
ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF MEDICAL POWER SUPPLIES
There are many medical power supply considerations to take when choosing new products. These five characteristics are must-haves for any quality power supply.
1. LOW LEAKAGE
People in medical settings — especially hospitals — are often quite weak. If there are any leakages in current, it can adversely affect their health. While the same amount of leakage would likely not cause any harm to a healthy person using a device in industrial settings, it can cause real damage in medical applications, making low leakage power supplies essential. IEC 60601 standards establish medical power supply leakage requirements to ensure patients are protected from currents that might harm their health.
2. EXTRA INSULATION
Most commercial power supplies aren’t part of devices that interface directly with the human body. As such, their design is less concerned with safety in this regard. Medical-grade power supplies feature extra insulation at more points, to keep both patients and device operators shielded from electrical shock.
The stakes are much higher for medical-grade equipment. If a power supply malfunctions during a robotically-assisted surgery, life may be lost. Medical equipment must be of the utmost reliability to be a good investment. Manufacturing facilities for medical-grade power supplies should be International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certified to ensure each product is built to be as reliable as possible.
4. MINIMAL FORM FACTOR
As technology continues to advance, devices are getting smaller and smaller. Medical power supplies are no different. To be most versatile, these devices need to be relatively small as well as portable. There is sometimes a trade-off between size and power that makes smaller power supplies with greater output more expensive, but the best products on the market do not sacrifice on size, power or price.
5. EMI FILTER
Many of the typical devices using power supplies, like patient monitoring devices, use low-level signals to operate. This makes the equipment more susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI). Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is one element of IEC 60601 standards. It’s worth noting that power supplies with EMI filters have capacitors that permit a certain amount of leakage current, and the more effective the EMI filter, the more leakage it produces.
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