The OmniPod is built on stealth technology - not the kind that goes into weapon systems, but the kind intended to disguise high-end medical equipment.
The insulin-delivery system, which hit the market in late 2005, replaced needle sticks and cumbersome pumps that help insulin-dependent diabetics manage their disease. And the system is hidden - in plain sight - an important feature for users who don't want to be pigeonholed by their disease.
The final design has a pod, which users fill with a three-day supply of insulin. They peel the backing from an adhesive strip and stick the pod onto their body. Insulin delivery is controlled automatically by a small hand-held controller, called the Personal Diabetes Manager, that looks like a palmtop electronic device and so eliminates any stigma of using it in public.
Teamwork brought the OmniPod to market, said John Garibotto, vice president of research, development and engineering at Insulet Corp. - the technology firm that came up with the concept. The team also included the designers who created the overall look and feel of it and the injection molder that figured out how to manufacture it, Garibotto said during an Oct. 18 presentation at the Connecting'07 World Design Congress in San Francisco.
More than 2,500 OmniPods have been sold in the United States in less than two years. And Insulet, a Bedford, Mass.-based technology startup firm that began with a handful of people and an idea, is now publicly trading its stock.
``Insulet took a breakthrough concept and partnered with a team of people to bring this to market,'' said Bill Welch, engineering vice president for Phillips Plastics Corp.
Phillips, of Phillips, Wis., worked with Insulet and West Newton, Mass.-based design group Design Continuum Inc. to bring the OmniPod to market.
Insulet was formed in 2000 to find a better way for insulin-dependent diabetics to get the medication they need. There are about 1.2 million people in the U.S. with type 1 diabetes who rely on insulin from needles or pumps.
Pumps are better overall because they provide a continuous flow, according to Garibotto. But, he said, they are expensive, with an initial cost of $6,500 for the machine, hard to use and conspicuous-looking. The OmniPod requires an $800 cost initially and $35 every three days for a new, disposable pod.
For the old pump system, patients have to assemble six different parts. They must insert a needle and tube into their bodies to be hooked up to the control mechanism.
Insulet's founders had the idea that they could separate the controller and the delivery device and make both smaller and easier to use. That would lead to better treatment for diabetics, who also would not have to worry about a pump that everyone noticed. To take that idea into actual production, though, they needed help.
``Insulet had the concept,'' said Brian Stonecipher, senior human factors engineer at Continuum. ``We like to think that things would have been much different if we hadn't been involved or Phillips hadn't been involved.''
Insulet and Continuum approached Phillips to find out how to make the two parts.
``It's not a one-and-done concept,'' Phillip's Welch said. ``It takes multiple rounds of prototyping and rapid prototyping.''
The final part relies on two-shot molding of polycarbonate and PC/ABS for the carrier, which also requires a watertight seal when it is in use. The process also includes micromolding, decoration and assembly. There are 14 different molded components in the pod, and another five in the PDM device.
``We put [Phillips] through hell in product development,'' Garibotto said.
But the result is worth it.
``There's a two-way street for innovation,'' Welch told designers at the Oct. 17-20 congress, co-sponsored by the Industrial Designers Society of America of Dulles, Va., and the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design in Montreal. ``You push the design envelope, which produces new markets for manufacturers, while manufacturing opens new business for design.''
The OmniPod took gold in last year's IDSA product competition. The device still is being rolled out in the U.S., including to diabetes educators and insurers. But Insulet also is looking at expanding outside domestic markets, Garibotto said.