Case Study. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare
The noble sentiment that lies behind Fisher & Paykel’s Purple-Pin-winning Simplus full-face mask is that “everybody deserves a good night’s sleep”.
Fisher & Paykel Healthcare
The mask, designed in New Zealand by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, treats Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a condition that prevents a sufferer from achieving good-quality sleep because the weight of the upper neck causes the airway to constrict which, in turn, causes a start, a short waking period, of which the sufferer is often not conscious.
“People try to breathe in when they’re sleeping but they can’t, so then they wake up, start breathing again, and go back to sleep. That can even happen up to once a minute. You have OSA if you have more than five events per hour,” says Greg Olsen, head of the Simplus design team.
OSA afflicts one-in-fifteen predominantly overweight people and leads to a litany of detrimental health consequences: depression, extreme fatigue, relationship strain, heart-related illnesses, increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure and car accidents. Its treatment involves a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) appliance, a tube and a mask. The CPAP machine pushes enough lightly pressurised air through the mask and into the airway, keeping it open during sleep. Its not a cure, but it is acknowledged as a very effective treatment. So effective, in fact, that it’s nicknamed the “sledgehammer”, because it works on everyone.
Olsen says that when he was asked to design a new mask from scratch he had “no idea where to start”. Cue research – potentially awkward but undoubtedly valuable time spent in people’s homes and in their bedrooms. In those bedrooms, people struggled to put masks on, wrestled with clips, untwisted straps and, seeking comfort, invented new ways to sleep. They also struggled to clean their masks and worried about breaking them down into their component parts for fear of losing a piece or not being able to reassemble the device.
The design team took a human-centred approach. In an attempt to establish greater empathy for end-users they started wearing masks to bed and underwent sleep-clinic-diagnostics.
“That was when the innovation really started. I really tried to drum into my engineers how intrusive into your life these things are. The only real way to understand the customer is to spend time in their environment.”
The design vision for Simplus was a mask that would better integrate with the patient’s lifestyle, a mask better than the market leader that did all the things that competitors’ masks did, such as ease of use and airtightness. The aspiration, however, was to revolutionise the comfort aspect.
In its expression, Simplus is the sum of three parts: headgear, frame and seal. Its appearance is minimalistic and unobtrusive. The frame is the centrepiece of the design, attaching to the headgear and CPAP tube as well as the seal. While competing masks break down into around 13 parts, Simplus is composed of just a few which pop apart. The seal is over-moulded onto a clear rigid housing that clips into the frame, and the frame connections make assembly and disassembly for cleaning intuitive. The seal features a technology that takes the pressure of the user’s bridge of nose; an accordion-like “rolling bridge” depresses to conform to a wide variety of nose bridge shapes and sizes. This silicon seal is also incredibly soft, with a good memory for shape.
The headgear, says Olsen, is thermo-formed to provide both stability and comfort. It’s rounded edges and multiple densities in specific zones assist the user when putting it on. The headgear sits ergonomically on the user’s head, avoiding painful areas like the lower neck and ears. It has embedded Velcro tabs allowing the user to easily adjust the tension to suit their individual comfort and includes easy clips for quick fitting on and off.
Although Olsen says that Simplus is just one exit on a highway to where he wants OSA masks to go, he is very clear on what he would like to hear from end-users of the product: “If someone would say, ‘That’s just great, I don’t have to worry about it, I just use it. It’s easy’. Then that would be a really great compliment.”
- Mike Barrett
Purple Pin 2013