[Photo courtesy of YKK]

Though they’re a small component, fasteners play a critical role in device performance.

Keith Glaser, YKK (U.S.A.)

Medical wearables technology — devices worn on the body or clothing that diagnose, treat or alleviate disease, or help mitigate injuries — has advanced significantly in recent years. While many people think of fitness trackers and health watches, this booming market also includes items like orthopedic braces, wearable injectors and compression garments.

Fasteners play a critical role in product performance, even though they are a small component of the overall device. They are probably the most frequently touched part of the product, used to attach it to the body or make it tighter or looser based on user need.

Let’s explore three key pitfalls to avoid when choosing fasteners that can result in underperforming wearables, wasted time and money and missed opportunities for innovation.

Pitfall No. 1: Selecting the wrong material

Fastener material choice directly impacts product performance and fitness for use. When selecting materials, there are several important considerations to make early in the design process.

YKK's hook-and-loop Powerloop fastener

YKK’s hook-and-loop Powerloop fastener [Photo courtesy of YKK]

For example, how strong or weak does the grip of the fastener need to be based on what you are trying to hold together? Imagine a common wearable such as an armband used to hold a cell phone while running. If the grip isn’t tight enough, the armband will fall off every time, rendering the product useless and frustrating the user. Many manufacturers do not realize that the grip of the hook and loop fastener, which is often the fastener of choice for this type of device, can be made very strong or very weak based on its configuration and directionality. The wrong directionality or configuration can also influence the lifecycle of a product. If the loop material degrades too quickly, manufacturers run the risk of receiving a significant volume of complaints about the product and even returns.

Another critical consideration for materials is tied to how the device will be used. If it will have prolonged skin contact, different levels of biocompatibility testing will be required and will need to be planned for in advance. It is also critical to plan for other important properties for the device, such as if it needs to be waterproof or fire retardant, as those requirements may impact whether the desired material is in fact a suitable choice.

To protect the effectiveness and safety of medical wearables when selecting fastener materials, manufacturers must also consider what kind of care the device will require over its lifetime. Will it need to be sterilized? Cleaned? Some materials will degrade very quickly when exposed to bleach, for example, so the device maintenance process must be factored into its design.

Pitfall No. 2: Overlooking ergonomics and usability

Deprioritizing the human aspects of designing wearable medical devices can decrease their use and acceptance levels. The top priorities here should be comfort and ease of use.

User comfort can translate to many things. For some people, it’s the ability to no longer sense the device after wearing it for some time. For others, comfort means an acceptable material texture or the ability to move normally when wearing the device. When designing the device, the placement of fasteners and even material choice can improve comfort. For example, making sure fasteners are not located on pressure points will enhance wearability.

Making devices easy to use is also essential. Key factors include a simple and intuitive user interface with easy to reach fasteners that can be operated with one or two hands at the appropriate pull strength. The good news is that there are a wide range of fastener options, from buckles and zippers to snaps and buttons in different shapes, that make ergonomic design feasible. However, forethought and planning are required to maximize the potential of these offerings.

Pitfall No. 3: Not seeking support early enough

It’s clear that the right material and proper fastener will have a positive impact on the performance of wearable medical devices. However, these elements lose their power if product performance characteristics aren’t factored in from the very beginning of the process.

Manufacturers can increase the likelihood of identifying the best solutions for their needs by taking a collaborative approach with their suppliers, versus simply asking them to deliver a product chosen out of a catalog. For example, with snap and button solutions, there are several nuances that can impact product performance, including tension and release and whether the product the fastener will be used on is intended for single or multiple use.

The fastener supplier will know these nuances intimately, and working with them early in the product development process can help set the manufacturer up for success. Timely engagement with partners early also maximizes opportunities for innovation and problem-solving by enabling discussions around machinery and services like sub-assembly that can result in efficiencies and cost-savings.

Keith Glaser, YKK

Keith Glaser [Photo courtesy of YKK]

Keith Glaser has more than two decades of experience working for YKK , currently as director of the medical and hygiene units for the Americas Group. He also oversees the Industrial Fastening Material Division, which includes textile and plastic fastening products. 

The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of MedicalDesignandOutsourcing.com or its employees.