When frugal HMI solutions don’t compromise on safety, less can indeed be more. Products and technological solutions from highly developed industrialized countries such as Germany are often “over-engineered”, with many features and controls that are not essential in typical everyday use. When developing frugal solutions, this way of thinking is virtually turned on its head: Only the bare essentials – the so-called “bottom-of-the-pyramid” – instead of the complex high-end variant. Does simplicity stand in contrast to safety and quality? Not at all: in some areas, it is precisely frugal engineering approaches that offer considerable innovation potential for HMIs and input devices.

When simplicity is safer: frugal solutions in medical technology

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry experienced repeated global supply shortages of various components, delaying the production of urgently needed products. A problem that continues to significantly impact healthcare sector. One of the reasons why a new approach to the manufacturing of medical technology has emerged – especially in situations with limited resources.

The frugal approach in medical technology focuses on the sense and positive impact of effectively reducing complexity: simple is sometimes even safer – especially when a simple HMI or input device has been designed to be so easy to use that one can quickly and intuitively respond in emergency situations, without having to spend valuable time studying a detailed manual. In this case, simplicity even saves lives.

Meanwhile, a variety of designs, prototypes, products and solutions have been created in the lower and middle price segments, most of which can even be operated by medical laypeople: Technologies, devices and services that benefit everyone – regardless of the level of development of the country in which they live. This approach has a lot to do with a new awareness of social responsibility. The examples are many and diverse:

> Robust, easy-to-use, safe ventilators and respiratory support systems for adults, children and infants
> Highly functional ECG devices with simplified user interfaces
> Innovative diagnostic tools for inflammation of the mouth and throat: “chewing gum rapid test”
> Compact, mobile ultrasound devices and computed tomography scanners
> Textile incubators for premature babies
> X-ray machines reduced to the essential functions

Simple is not easy – but it’s worth it: productive challenges for significant market opportunities

Product development, product design and user experience: a whole series of complex work steps must be invested in these areas so that the result is “simple” in the frugal sense. All value creation processes are streamlined – without any loss of quality and just as safe as the highly developed, feature-rich solution.

The effort is worth it: there is now considerable demand for frugal solutions and products not only in industrialized countries, but also in the so-called emerging markets, for example, across various industries and throughout the entire technological infrastructure. These gaps in the market offer great potential for all companies that engage in the development of frugal products – enabling them to not only tap into new markets for their business, but also sustainably advance the overall technical and thus social development of a country. Nonessential functions and those that are not required by the customer are omitted or removed. Products and solutions are redesigned with a special, targeted focus on their respective area of application.

New technologies and the right mindset: Ready for “frugal engineering”?

Many new technologies, such as process and device automation or IoT (Internet of Things) are ideally suited to frugal engineering.

In parallel, modern production processes such as 3D printing and additive manufacturing methods provide further useful effects: saving raw materials, avoiding overproduction, reducing follow-up costs.

And we have saved one of the most important thoughts in this context for the end: Successful “frugal engineering” is ultimately always a matter of the appropriate and necessary corporate culture. The right agile mindset is just as important as the detailed, regular exchange of information with customers and users. When all of this is combined with deliberately promoted performance for rapid, functional adjustments and effective marketing, then frugal products can be a real success: Simple, affordable, practical, reliable and safe.

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