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Capstone Projects

Quality, Cost and Reliability Improvements in the Manufacture of Interoperative Ultrasound Probe Arrays and Assemblies

Program: Data Science Master's
Host Company: BK Medical
Location: State College, Pennsylvania (onsite)
Student: Michael Brown

This project is centered around the manufacture of ultrasound probes. An ultrasound probe is a tool used in conjunction with an ultrasound system to enable surgeons, nurses and health care workers to “see” images in the body enabling them to draw conclusions. These conclusions may involve the location of a tumor in the body or in a more pleasant example that a baby is healthy and developing right on schedule. Ultrasound probes offer a benefit over radiology as the energy emitted is not harmful and it can be used in real time, often during surgical procedures. At the heart of every probe is a transducer, often fabricated from a ceramic. When the ceramic is subjected to an electrical signal a sound wave is emitted which ultimately reflects from the matter in question and returns to the probe. The probe responds to the incoming wave by slightly compressing the ceramic and generating its own signal from which and image is formed. Ultrasound probes are manufactured in a stepwise, order and time dependent process. There are three fundamental areas of manufacture, they are; ceramic fabrication, array fabrication and final assembly. There are several starting materials that include plastics, ceramics, epoxies, circuit boards, cables and connectors. These materials are used together with highly specialized automation, manual labor, and precise acoustic measurement equipment to produce ultrasound probes fit for use in a variety of surgical procedures. During the manufacture of an ultrasound probe data is generated continuously. Each process is measured in a variety of different ways, culminating in the final safety, electrical and acoustic testing that takes place to characterize and accept the probe for final use. It is the intent of this effort to gain insight from the available data to inform decisions around process improvements culminating in improved manufacturing and probe performance.