Stronger, Faster, Better

Safepole's engineering challenge

The IV pole has remained largely unchanged for over a century. It's high time we re-engineered this foot-gouging, self-tipping, line-tangling, contraption!

This Tethered Life

Our story’s hero is Cari Ugent, a successful writer who had to spend three unwilling months attached to an IV pole while recovering from a stem-cell transplant. This gave her ample time to suffer the pole’s shortcomings and so she committed to bringing this antiquated device into the 21st century. She knew reinventing such a medically sensitive device was going to need the right blend of innovation and engineering, and so approached TEAMS Design.

The Engineering Challenge

Teardowns and production analysis of existing poles, coupled with ethnographic user research we were astounded by the number of issues and workarounds that had compounded over the years. For instance, ever-more patients were getting two or three intravenous lines, each from a different pump -the pumps not only made the pole dangerously top heavy but they also often tangled the lines making it difficult for the caregiver to not adjust the flow of the wrong line.

There were many more obvious issues too, such as tipping on door thresholds, the spider-shaped wheel supports would gouge the feet, the much-ribbed handle would prevent true hygienic cleaning and would even break under patients’ weight.

The Secret Sauce

Our designers and engineers put their heads together to tackle each of the problems head-on. A vital tool at this stage the Journey Map following a pole from storage through the stay of a patient to the final cleaning. This helped the engineers prioritize certain features and helped create a holistic solution by focusing on the common experience behind each disparate feature.

Sketch CAD models lead to rapid prototypes, and then further CAD refinements in a very iterative process, gradually finding the right balance between strength and manufacturability, between stability and mobility. Surprisingly very few standards existed for this equipment, so we created our own based upon other healthcare equipment that far exceeded what we were seeing in competitor models.


The "tree of life".  
Today's IV Poles are overwhelmed
by the number of pumps and
lines often required.

A Growing Challenge

One of the more challenging areas of the engineering was in the handle, where we applied the use case of a 300 lb patient who stumbles and applies dynamic force onto the handle. The handle needed to hold incredible force at its most outward extents, and yet still be so compact. Our FEA tests guided us through options that involved metal inserts, various ribbing strengthening options, and two-part construction options. Materials and fill options were also an important part of the exploration -how to find the right amount of rigidity to withstand twist forces without making it too brittle to survive impact with a wall.

The launch that saved lives (and feet)

Many prototypes and FMEA tests later, we had it. A holistic set of features that far outperform existing incumbents and at the same cost. The dual pole helps spread the pumps and the guide helps keep the lines in check. The incredibly strong handle includes storage and is much easier to clean, and the base protects the feet from injury. It also includes a feature for porters to transport them daisy-chained and a medical grade powerstrip for the patient’s portable power needs.

At launch, Cari Ugent received a Gold Award from the Medical Design Excellence Awards, and the Safepole was immediately taken up by many new hospitals across the country. Innovation takes time and ingenuity, but if done well it can truly make a difference.

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