An International Team of 80 Uses SOLIDWORKS to Design Lifesaving Medical Devices

Design that Matters (DtM) is a non-profit that uses the power of design to find the best opportunities for technology to have a massive impact serving the poor in developing countries. You may have already learned about us from the SOLIDWORKS blog or November Webinar. We use SOLIDWORKS to collaborate with hundreds of volunteers and reduced-rate contractors in academia and industry in order to design medical devices to save newborn lives. Most recently, we have been using SOLIDWORKS to design Firefly phototherapy and the Pelican pulse oximeter.


Design that Matters collaborators used SOLIDWORKS in every phase of the design process including the student team (left), professional product designers (middle), and manufacturing partners (right).
Design that Matters collaborators used SOLIDWORKS in every phase of the design process including the student team (left), professional product designers (middle), and manufacturing partners (right).

With the help of partners MTTS and East Meets West Foundation (an affiliate of Thrive Networks), Firefly has already treated over 5000 newborns with jaundice in ten developing countries over the past year. During the design process, we worked with over eighty people to develop the final device including students, professional product designers, and our manufacturing partners in Vietnam and China.


We love working with student teams to generate a wide variety of out-of-the-box ideas. We began Project Firefly with a team of students from the MIT and Rhode Island School of Design team in the Product Design and Development class. They brainstormed many concepts and narrowed to one prototype which they embodied in SOLIDWORKS and handed off to us. It was impressive to see how easily the student team could embody a concept in SOLIDWORKS given they had spent relatively little time using the software before this class.


The final architecture developed by the student team was brilliant; small and portable, and also fit on a mom’s bed for better care. However, one thing was missing: we wanted to add a light from the bottom to provide even more intensive phototherapy and better ensure effective treatment. We were able to hit the ground running by modifying the students’ SOLIDWORKS model to include a bottom light. Then we used PhotoView 360 to create renderings to share with global health experts before investing in the full alpha prototype model and taking it to Vietnam for user feedback.


Once we had settled on the final features that would make a successful product, we recruited a team of five experienced product design organizations to complete the detailed design. We passed the SOLIDWORKS database back and forth between the organizations for industrial design, mechanical design, as a reference for electrical design, and as input to thermal and optical analyses. In this phase, experts with decades of product design experience were able to use SOLIDWORKS to embody complex, organic geometries and also detail the device for manufacturing.


After a successful clinical evaluation, we handed the beta prototype SOLIDWORKS database over to our manufacturing partners MTTS in Vietnam and their plastic injection molding partner e-Bi in China. MTTS used SOLIDWORKS to make the final tweaks that made the design easy to manufacture. Then e-Bi used the database to create a metal tool for injection molding each of the housings, as seen in the photo.


Now we have kicked off a new project to develop a pulse oximeter to identify newborns with pneumonia and help monitor them during treatment with oxygen and antibiotics. We are happy to report that we have received a top notch prototype and SOLIDWORKS database from another fantastic MIT and Rhode Island School of Design team. We look forward to saving even more newborn lives with SOLIDWORKS.

New and Improved MIT + RISD Student Team Pelican Pulse Oximeter Concept from Design that Matters on Vimeo.

Elizabeth Johansen

Elizabeth Johansen

Director of Product Development at Design that Matters
Elizabeth leads DtM's product design process. Using her engineering experience and design thinking background, she leads designers, professional volunteers, students, and contractors to create world-class designs with positive impact for low resource communities in the developing world. Prior to DtM, Elizabeth worked at IDEO for 8 years. Her experience spans strategy to design for manufacture for clients including Eli Lilly, BriteSmile, Reynolds, Target, Becton Dickinson, and 3Com. Elizabeth also speaks and facilitates workshops about design for social impact to audiences ranging from budding social enterprises to the largest bank in the world. She holds a B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.
Elizabeth Johansen
Elizabeth Johansen