5 keys to driving quality and innovation, from dry powder pioneers ISAB
ISAB’s R&D dry powder aerosol system PreciseInhale has been purchased by Dow Chemicals, Chiesi, King’s College London, and produced six patents, with more in the pipeline. For 17 years software developer Carl-Olof Sjöberg has worked on it, side-by-side with PreciseInhale inventor and ISAB founder Per Gerde. What advice would Carl-Olof offer other product and software developers on creating quality and driving innovation?
Inhalation Sciences AB is an innovator company in a field still seen by many as conservative. Despite the lung being a uniquely complex organ, much R&D into how particles are inhaled still uses technology largely unchanged since the 1950’s: Vast ‘towers’ of lab rats inhaling aerosols produced by liquid nebulizers, often resulting in variable, imprecise data. PreciseInhale has changed all that. It uses just one animal at a time, generating voluminous high-quality data. It lets scientists control the dose of aerosol being used precisely, simulating tests and even replacing animals altogether. PreciseInhale’s advanced software and sensor technology, developed by Carl-Olof Sjöberg, is an important part of the whole system’s quality and usability. He’s proud to have been asked to contribute to the team. After 35 years in medtech development what advice would he offer other software engineers and product developers?
Key #1: “Real input just can’t be beaten”
“All the way through its development PreciseInhale has been tried and tested by a wide range of external customers. As an entire system, with many separate test modules, PreciseInhale has been developed by working in the requirements of users and applications into every part—from mechanics to electronics and software. That real input has been integral. And the end result is an intuitive tool that delivers valuable results. When you develop products in-house, internal customers often don’t set the bar as high. They’re focused on their scientific goals too of course, but because they’re involved in product and system development they’re often acting as test pilots at the same time, so they’re thinking more about if it’s possible, what can, or can’t be done. External customers on the other hand, should be able to take the developed functionality for granted. The robust, high-quality results the whole PreciseInhale system delivers should absolutely let them stay focused on their scientific goals alone.”
Key #2: “Don’t just listen to what people say—watch what they do”
“I see the software I develop being used on real jobs as part of the whole PreciseInhale system, sometimes on a daily basis. This has helped enormously in making it more easy-to-use. The trick is to understand what the user really needs—not just what they say they need. Don’t just listen to what people say—watch what they do. Sometimes I’ve watched people using the software and thought ‘wow, that’s not the way I thought it would be used at all’. So then I’ve changed it and watched next time. I want it to be so smooth I would use it myself, with minimum training and intervention.”
Key #3: “The best software runs itself, so do the best processes”
“Quality depends on making systems as simple and autonomous as possible. The user really shouldn’t have to carry out many interventions. One of my previous jobs was developing automation systems for radio chemistry. So this kind of automated methodology is front of mind for me. The best and most innovative processes manage themselves. Operators can’t be there watching the whole system all the time, thinking ‘is this good enough? OK then I’ll click!’ If a user can’t trust your software unless they’re there guiding it you’ve failed.”
Key #4: “you need to play around with components a lot to realize how best to use them”
“One of the many great things about working with Per is that he’s not bound by convention. You don’t hear ‘we should do it this way, we should do it that way’. He understands exactly what the customer needs to achieve scientifically—but he’s curious and flexible about how to get there. He iterates and prototypes a lot. Innovating on a tight budget too can help make you more creative. Using components for purposes other than those they were intended for can open up interesting opportunities. Our concentration measurement sensor, Casella, was originally meant as an environmental device for air monitoring in general. Deciding to use it in a more targeted way, to measure how much powder has been generated in PreciseInhale and how it behaves in a single dose, was an evolutionary step. Constant iteration and prototyping builds up a robust pipeline. When new customers ask for new functionality we realize we’ve often explored aspects of it already. With true innovation nothing is ever wasted.”
Key #5: “We always encourage people to bring us their biggest challenges to solve.”
“Per and the team always encourage people to bring them their biggest challenges to solve. And they look to partner with innovative pioneering players, whether in imaging, chemistry or sensor technology. ISAB is an R&D company, R&D isn’t an add-on or an extra for us. It’s our heartbeat. It’s what keeps us alive. It’s amazing how many larger companies lose that in their R&D departments. But lose that and you risk losing everything.”