All in the niche -Electronics News

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All in the niche -Electronics News

Postby Matthew Balgowan » Tue Mar 30, 2010 5:18 pm

All in the niche -Electronics News
3 March 2010 | by Catherine Pickavet | ... 12702.aspx

Sometimes looking beyond a standard operating procedure can mean the difference between getting by comfortably and giving yourself a shot at shaking up an industry. It’s whether you want to take that chance.

When Total Control Group (TCG) Industrial recruited Paul Zrna, the company was a distributor of medical products out of Germany, among other things, and was looking to expand. Zrna wanted a change.

The mutually beneficial union resulted in a TCG that not only distributed products, but also one that would become a developer of one in an industry perfect for electronic innovation.

Outside the box
TCG Industrial has been in operation since 1998. After a few years of distributing products throughout Australia in a range of industries, such as medical and automotive, it grabbed Zrna to help expand that side of the business. After seeing the lineup of products that TCG represented, Zrna made his move, which contributed to the would change the company’s direction.

“After I saw the products, I said, ‘I believe we can do something that is probably a lot better than what they've done,’” Zrna said, who is now managing director of the company. “So we just went through a few different features that I thought would be interesting to add to the product, which would make it far more user friendly and just be an all around better product.”

Zrna said the company began looking at the current crop of competitors in the medical electronics industry and decided it could make products that were a lot smarter.

The products

TCG’s trajectory can be largely attributed to its battery-operated Dermaray-UV and Dermaray-Laser skin treatment products, which the company designed with both the patient and doctor in mind. The success of it, Zrna said, is in its ease of use, which benefits the patient.
The electronics in the company’s Dermaray-UV removes a lot of the stress for patients normally associated with having to monitor their conditions.

Many treatments for skin conditions, such as psoriasis, require multiple trips to the doctor, as well as specifically prescribed regimens depending on the type of condition. According to Zrna, the electronics in the company’s Dermaray-UV removes a lot of the stress for patients normally associated with having to monitor their conditions.

“One of the first things we did was add a treatment timer, so that the lamp would actually time the treatments for users. As part of that we included a proximity sensor, so it wouldn't actually start timing until they actually put the lamp against their skin. The lamp would then begin timing the treatment and beep when that particular area was finished being treated.”

If a user skips an area for whatever reason – say an area just doesn’t need treatment – the product will track that, as well, and display a different time than the other treated areas. The unit, which logs the times, is aware of the varying times of different areas and, thus, treats each area accordingly.

Developing electronic products for the medical industry carries with it a number of challenges, not the least of which is ensuring a patient’s safety. To achieve this, designers need to meet a slew of regulations and pass various approvals process. In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) determines a product’s market worthiness. The United States has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there are Chinese and European equivalents.

“The European and Australian entities are basically the same,” Zrna said. “If you have approval from one then you basically have approval from the other. But the FDA is different and China's is different. But, for instance, China authorities would recognise that you've got FDA approval and so they would take that into account.”

All of this is quite understandable when developing products for the medical industry, Zrna said, and it's something that the company is all too willing to contend with in order to keep its users as safe as possible.

The unit logs the times and is aware of the varying times of different areas and, thus, treats each area accordingly.

“If you're doing anything that may affect someone's health, then obviously you want to make sure what you're doing is safe, or is administered in a safe way or is not going to cause anyone to go blind or lose a limb or something like that. You've got to always keep in the back of your mind that the product has got to be intrinsically safe. That if it fails, make sure it fails in a way that's not going to harm anybody."

This is one reason that TCG decided to go with a battery-operated unit. Zrna said that if the unit were to fail, the actual voltage that was output was limited because it is powered by a battery. “That is going to help with the approval process because you’ve effectively got a safer unit.”

In Australia
The device also has the potential to benefit doctors, but most of the doctors reaping its benefits are outside of Australia. One of the reasons for that, he said, is that the doctors here seem very reluctant to let patients self medicate. That doesn’t bother Zrna.

“I think we can certainly grow the market here if we really tried,” he said. “But the fact is at the moment, I'm quite happy that we're producing product in Australia; it's manufactured here and we're exporting it. So I think this is all really good. Bringing jobs to Australia. Bringing in export dollars. That's a really good thing.”

This doesn’t mean that he has given up on seeing his products blanket the nation.

“I'm talking to a couple of retailers at the moment specifically about the laser product which is a very similar unit except that it is used for different treatments of different diseases.”

It currently employs three people, two of which are designers. The other work, such as software development, is contracted out. “I did the actual hardware as far as the electronics were concerned along with another guy here,” Zrna said, “and we've contracted a guy who did all the industrial design stuff.”

Although the company has its hand in other areas through distribution, Zrna said it’s the medical industry that TCG hopes to find continued success. There are niches that the company has identified it can fill, though for the time being, Zrna is keeping his cards down.

“I know there's a lot of very interesting stuff being done here, and I know it's quite innovative,” he said, “There's always more that can be done, but I think that it's definitely a very interesting market. As health budgets get squeezed in various different countries, having people able to take care of themselves at home will help alleviate some of the stress on the system. The more you can stop people running to the doctor every time they have some minor ailment, the better it's going to be.”
Matt Balgowan.
Matthew Balgowan
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Joined: Sat Dec 12, 2009 8:57 am

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