Leverage commercial off-the-shelf tools to create verifiable hardware and software solutions

by Carlton Heard, National Instruments , TechOnline India - March 01, 2012

Designing solutions for medical applications is growing more complex as adherence to regulations is shifting to more of the designer’s responsibility. Taking advantage of FPGAs can help designers reduce their time to market.

As the complexity of medical devices grows, so does the complexity of the hardware, software, and number of lines of code. The FDA sets rules and guidelines to help insure that quality products enter a market, but the burden and risk assessment duty falls upon the product owner. With the pressures of getting your device to market quickly, how can you manage the quality of a product while ensuring a well thought out risk assessment?   

There is a potential solution to this problem, and a more strict testing and review process is not necessarily the answer. Ensuring the quality andreliability of a product requires a strong understanding and use of software engineering practices, even as a hardware designer. Software engineering generally refers to a regimented and procedural methodologyfor designing, developing, and testing code. While multiple-process models for software engineering have emerged over the years, they almost all describe specific phases and criteria that must be met before moving on in the life-cycle process.   

The following list describes practices from within the software engineering process for engineers developing medical devices. Off-the-shelf tools and software engineering practices merge with hardware elements, such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), in many medical designs. This article looks at the process, procedures, and tools including:

•Defining a process

•Using a change management system

•Leveraging FPGAs for critical components



•Buffer Overflow

•Safety System

•Separating prototypes from development

•Using prototypes to derive specifications and requirements

•Managing and tracking requirements traceability


The article "Leverage commercial off-the-shelf tools to create verifiable hardware and software solutions" examines these issues in greater detail; it originally appeared at Medical Electronics Design.

About the author:

Carlton Heard is a Product Engineer for Embedded Systems at National Instruments, with a focus on NI CompactRIO and NI Single-Board RIO. He joined NI in 2007 in the Engineering Leadership Program (ELP) and then transitioned to the Application Engineering Specialist group where he focused on machine vision, industrial robotics and FPGA applications. Heard holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering from Oklahoma State University.


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