Customer Success Stories

Moving Patient Rehabilitation Forward with Harmonic Bionics

“We’ve done so many boards in a short time, which we really couldn’t have done without Altium Designer. Three-dimensional modeling and MCAD compatibility allows me to create quick and accurate mechanical mockups with less board spins and mechanical changes.”

Mike Duncan
Senior Hardware Engineer
Harmonic Bionics

The World Health Organization has estimated that hundreds of millions of people suffer from over 600 different neurological disorders, including strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

In 2017, the global prevalence of strokes alone was 104.2 million. For survivors, the road to recovery is challenging and requires extensive rehabilitation with the continued assistance of therapists, doctors, and clinicians. To regain motor functions after suffering strokes or other sudden onset conditions that can cause brain or spinal cord injuries, repetitive motions are essential to help patients regain neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt and essentially rewire itself to new behaviors).

To help ameliorate this daunting task for therapists and patients, Harmonic Bionics, an Austin, TX based company that develops intelligent robotics, have introduced a revolutionary new way for patients and therapists to maximize patient recovery—Harmony SHR. 

As Kalavati Bhashyam, Director of Electrical and Software Engineering at Harmonic Bionics, elaborates, “With our flagship product, Harmony SHR, we intend to optimize upper extremity therapy by enabling early intervention, increasing intensity, and employing patient-specific intent-based therapy through novel exercises.”

As Mike Duncan, Senior Hardware Engineer at Harmonic Bionics, further explains, “Harmony SHR essentially replaces the repetitive motions that a physical therapist would use, so it gives them more time to observe and customize therapy protocols using objective data that the device collects during each session.”

The device was born at the University of Texas at Austin’s ReNeu Robotics Lab in 2016, under the guidance of two of Harmonic's principal founders, Clinical Research Officer Dr. Ashish Deshpande and Chief Technology and Operating Officer Dr. Youngmok Yun. Harmony SHR’s design features a lightweight, flexible exoskeleton, which has shown great promise in the field of neuro-rehabilitation of the upper extremities. 

As Harmonic Bionics moves to commercialize Harmony SHR beyond the confines of the lab, they’ve also added Altium Designer to their arsenal, allowing for multiple new product developments.

“The design process per board used to take about five to six hours on average with other ECAD software; now I can do them almost immediately. Multiboard assembly is even easier because I can rely on Altium Designer for board and connector alignment and reducing interference issues.

Mike Duncan
Senior Hardware Engineer
Harmonic Bionics

Expediting Product Development with Ease

While Harmony SHR has yet to find a home outside of the ReNeu Robotics Lab, hampered mainly by the global coronavirus pandemic, Duncan and his team have been hard at work developing robots for deployment, as well as new, non-seated models to accommodate patients early on in the rehabilitative process.

“We’re working on new robotics to ensure that most patients can access Harmony SHR, regardless of the level of impairment, as well as looking into potential home-centric technologies, but right now, our main objective is to get the current model commercially available for use in hospital systems, rehabilitation clinics, and out-patient treatment centers,” Bhashyam elaborates.

Altium Designer has proven to be invaluable to Duncan, Harmonic Bionic’s principal electrical designer. “The main challenges we’ve had are designing a lot of printed circuit boards in a short time, and the tight mechanical requirements for the boards to fit into small spaces in our robots.”

The average robot incorporates 24 unique boards, with custom-designed motors that drive each unit’s intricate gear system. With Altium Designer on hand, Duncan can design as many as 4 boards per day.

“We’ve done so many boards in a short time, which we really couldn’t have done without Altium Designer. Three-dimensional modeling and MCAD compatibility allows me to create quick and accurate mechanical mockups with less board spins and mechanical changes.”

On average, the development process is at least 30% more efficient since Duncan began using Altium Designer. “The design process per board used to take about five to six hours on average with other ECAD software; now I can do them almost immediately. Multiboard assembly is even easier because I can rely on Altium Designer for board and connector alignment and reducing interference issues,” Duncan reports.

But that’s not all Altium Designer has helped Harmonic Bionics achieve. 

Simple things like changing the board shape are much easier. The extensive part database powered by Altium’s Octopart makes it much easier to tie components to their footprints, which heavily simplifies BOM creation. Just generating MCAD files alone is a huge time saver; exporting the design is so much easier because the tool takes care of generating the folder structure, so the entire process is much more straightforward and efficient. Now, our designs and our BOMs are solid,” Duncan concludes.

Altium Designer has also made the review process much easier. “I’m able to go into the tool and review designs using an easy-to-use viewer that shows the entire schematic in 3D. Viewing and visualizing are so much easier now,” Bhashyam adds.

"Simple things like changing the board shape are much easier. Just generating MCAD files alone is a huge time saver; exporting the design is so much easier because the tool takes care of generating the folder structure, so the entire process is much more straightforward and efficient."

Mike Duncan
Senior Hardware Engineer
Harmonic Bionics

Ready for Roll-Out

After the pandemic wanes, Harmonic Bionics is eager to introduce their flagship robot to rehabilitation hospitals and centers far beyond the confines of UT Austin’s ReNeu Robotics Lab.

As the demand for these game-changing systems increases, Harmonic Bionics will include more designers, as well as expanding their suite of Altium solutions.

“We’ll be relying more on Altium technology for component management as projects move up in the pipeline,” Bhashyam explains, “And I know we’re going to really need Altium Concord Pro and Altium 365 once we initiate commercialization of Harmony SHR.”

“Future designs will definitely leverage Altium Concord Pro,” Duncan adds, “And I’m going to be using Altium Designer for flex designs to help improve Harmony’s range of motion with less wiring while still keeping boards compact inside lightweight casing.”

Duncan also foresees utilizing Altium 365 for co-design once production kicks into high gear, as well as collaborating with new team members. With a comprehensive PCB design solution in place, the possibilities are almost endless—and that’s good news for millions of patients everywhere.