The challenges of building a total body scanner

Designing and manufacturing a machine for a brand new application always starts by the same simple question: how to make it works?

It is common to draw inspiration from previous similar applications or subsets that were successful in the past. Now, to define what is similar and what is not, it is paramount to describe the specifications as precisely as possible. So here we have the first puzzle to solve, the specifications. Being as it is an innovation project, the requirements for the machine are difficult to define. Calculations, prototypes, validations, it takes time and effort that ineluctably overlaps with the time planned for the design of the scanner, entering in a loop of assumptions and reasonable risks.

One of these assumptions is the mapping of the body: the images to be analyzed. For the machine means all the points that the cameras must reach. This volume, calculated for different morphologies, is one of the results and therefore not defined at the beginning. This circumstance prevent the design from being oriented to the equipment optimization and costs from the first approach. For example, a simple solution would be to use mechanical guides that would move the cameras through a regular geometric shape, such as a circumference or an oval; and leads the design towards a more flexible mechatronics system that allows a wide range of movements. This system poses a challenge for machine programming due to the large number of motors involved.

Many ideas have been put in a drawer for now until the first results show us if we are on the right track or if it is better to re-evaluate some of them. Beyond the specifications themselves there is a crucial task: to understand in depth the interactions among them. That is the real challenge. With more than 15 partners generating innovative devices or software, as well as ethical and medical premises, it is easy to get lost among so much information and miss the target: making it work. Every challenge has a path which, at its core, is simply made up of steps. Next step is often defined by the previous one, and the very first step is a risk analysis, which is a process in itself and evolutes.

In the flow of events, the prototypes come to the rescue and shed light on the initial and subsequent uncertainties and doubts. In addition to the difficulties inherent to research, we can say that there is life out there that evolves far from our expectations and planning. The shortage of resources, mainly in electronic components after the pandemic generates a chain of delays in any component from which we can hardly escape, and we find ourselves too often with assemblies stopped until the arrival of material. Any slippage in planning leads to a restructuring of resources, which does not always fit in with the progress of other projects. In the end, the second principle of thermodynamics holds true for all projects, even if no one invites it...

So far, we just follow each step until each challenge becomes a solution. Hope to write about it next time!