BMW Group DesignworksUSA had to figure that problem out when redesigning the Varian TrueBeam, a high-energy X-ray machine which treats tumors. all images ©2010, Varian Medical Systems, Inc. all rights reserved.
Some say that the best industrial design is invisible, and if you notice it, something's wrong. That's seems especially true with medical devices, which most people only encounter when… well, something's wrong. So when med-tech firm Varian wanted to redesign their line of high-energy X-ray machines (which are used to treat scary stuff like malignant tumors), they brought in the big guns at BMW Group DesignworksUSA. The result of their collaboration, the Varian TrueBeam, may not look much different at first glance from any other hulking piece of hospital equipment. but as with any effective industrial design, it's the details that matter most.
The designers were constrained by the technology inside the TrueBeam — no matter what kind of skin you put over a linear accelerator, it's going to be big (about the size of a 3-Series automobile tipped on its edge, according to BMW Group DesignworksUSA). but that skin hadn't been updated in about 25 years, says Dean Ryan, BMW Group DesignworksUSA Senior Project Manager. "The fit and finish of the fiberglass panels was improved with the use of pressure-formed plastic panels and the color scheme was updated from a combination of muted greys and blues and beiges — typical older medical colors," Ryan tells Co.Design. "our task was to give [the Varian TrueBeam] a geometry and color and texture that would be reassuring to patients who are feeling vulnerable, and at the same time make it more efficient for the RT to set up and run it as smoothly as possible."
That meant replacing the older, angular shapes of Varian's products with smooth curves and soft shapes "so all the surfaces seem flow in a way that looks organized — both to the patient, who's about to get into the thing, and the radiotherapist, who has to use it," Ryan says. And the TrueBeam's white isn't just any old white: "There's a bit of mica in it, to give a quality of reflectivity, a little more presence."
It sounds hand-wavey, but this is the same kind of nano-attention to detail that Steve Jobs applies to an iPad. besides obvious connotations of cleanliness and clarity, the designers needed a white that would be neutral enough to fit into any hospital, while looking like a trustworthy, ultra-precision tool. "When they're dealing with cancer, patients want to be reassured that they're entering into a process that's going to solve their problem," Ryan explains. Bonus: the white color actually makes the entire device appear smaller.
The Varian TrueBeam is actually two products under one name: one marketed to oncology departments with a lot of patient-facing interaction, and another meant for radiosurgery. BMW DesignworksUSA created subtle but distinct accents on each product to appeal to its primary users: "for the machine used in surgery, we made the curved surfaces slightly tighter and added silver accents to give it more of a sense of 'technical confidence,'" Ryan explains. "meanwhile, the oncology device has matte titanium accents that are more about soothing softness, because patients are often going to be in there several times over the course of days or weeks."
Battling cancer is no easy task for patients or medical professionals, but thanks to the sensitive attention to detail by BMW Group DesignworksUSA, hopefully the experience can be a bit less arduous.
COMMENTARY: God all Mighty, what an incredible machine. When I see the word "accelerator", I think radiation. With all the computerized controls, tilting and swiviling of the electron beam heads, it is amazing how it does its work with such precision and speed, killing and removing cancerous tumors no matter where they are located in the body. Hope I don't have to go through that.
The TrueBeam was first was introduced in April 2010. Designed to advance the treatment of lung, breast, prostate, head and neck, and other types of cancer, the TrueBeam platform for image-guided radiotherapy and radiosurgery has been introduced by Varian Medical Systems as the first fully-integrated radiotherapy system designed from the ground up to treat a moving target with speed and precision.
With dose delivery rates that are 40 to 140 percent higher than earlier generations of Varian technology, the TrueBeam can complete a treatment significantly faster. this makes it possible to offer greater patient comfort by shortening treatments, and to improve precision by leaving less time for tumor motion during dose delivery. “Intelligent” automation further speeds treatments with an up to five-fold reduction in the number of steps needed for image guidance and dose delivery.
Dr. Rena Zimmerman, Olympic Cancer Medical Center, Sequim, Washington, whose TrueBeam becomes operational in April 2011 said, “We will see significant reductions in treatment time and patients will spend less time lying still, immobilized, resulting in increased patient comfort.”
The precision of the TrueBeam is measured in increments of less than a millimeter (smaller than a mustard seed). this accuracy is made possible by the system’s sophisticated architecture, which synchronizes imaging, patient positioning, motion management, beam shaping and dose delivery, performing accuracy checks every ten milliseconds throughout the entire treatment. as the treatment progresses, critical data points are measured to ensure the system maintains a true focal point of treatment.
For lung and other tumors subject to respiratory motion, TrueBeam offers gated RapidArc® radiotherapy, which makes it possible to monitor patient breathing and compensate for tumor motion as it quickly delivers its dose during a continuous rotation around the patient. “This helps us treat lung cancer, but will greatly enhance our ability to treat breast cancer – the leading cause of cancer death in Clallam County – and we expect this to make a meaningful difference for breast cancer patients in our area,” says Dr. Zimmerman. “We can treat the tumor as if the patient were not breathing.”
At the end of February 2011, more than 170 orders have been placed for TrueBeam systems globally and about 40 installations are completed or in progress. at the end of December 2010, there were only five TrueBeam operational installations in the entire world.
- VU University Medical Center (Netherlands).
- Zurich University Hospital (Switzerland).
- The Stanford Cancer Center (Palo Alto, Ca.)
- John Theurer Cancer Center, Hackensack University Medical Center, NJ. (two installed)
The new TrueBeam linear accelerator is the “top-of-the-line,” said Mike Harral, a construction project manager for Varian. he said the new unit has “more capabilities than any other out there.” TrueBeam linear accelerator's, weigh 21,000 pounds, are shipped in a climate-controlled moving van. New units are installed in specially designed vaults. according to Mike Harral, each vault is designed to ensure that radiation created by the linear accelerator can’t escape. The wall toward which the beam is pointed is solid concrete, 7 feet thick. Harral provided a layman’s description of the accelerator’s function, saying it “takes electricity and bumps it up to a pulse.” The unit runs on just “480 volts — 80 amps,” but this is multiplied by the accelerator, with the resulting energy transformed to microwaves. That in turn accelerates particles to “just under the speed of light. The particles crash into a metal plate, creating radiation.” The rest of the equipment is used to “shape the radiation … minimizing the dosage to healthy tissue and maximizing the dose to the tumor.”
What does a new TrueBeam installation cost? How about $2.7 million, not including the cost of the vault, testing and training medical personnel to use the new machine.