How defence companies can stand out in the medical and robotics sectors

Ultralife, looks at how defence OEMs can take their industry knowledge and apply it to the robotics and medical sectors




What can defence manufacturers bring to the table?

The defence sector is one of the most demanding sectors for OEMs to work in. Competition is fierce, and suppliers demand the highest quality and the latest technologies.

Many OEMs have built up the knowledge and experience to meet these demands, but they could also apply them to other sectors, further diversifying their business. So what lessons can OEMs take from the defence sector and apply to other, emerging sectors? 

Large budgets and innovation

In addition to a large budget, the military sector high expectations for the most cutting-edge technology. Some of the most recent and significant technological breakthroughs, such as the internet, GPS and spaceflight, can all be linked back to military research.

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To keep up with supplier demands and ensure that they can provide suppliers with cutting edge technology, companies in the defence sector often heavily in research and development (R&D). This is in direct contrast to most other sectors.

However, let’s consider the medical sector. They also require the most up to date technology available but do not have the budget nor the ability to spend on R&D as the military sector has. This is where OEMs can set themselves apart from competitors by offering technology that is more advanced.

Unrivalled reliability

So, how can defence OEMs set themselves apart? The first is reliability. In the defence industry, it goes without saying that equipment, such as a battery for radio, cannot fail at critical moments. Communication is essential, and if personnel are unable to communicate in an operational environment, the results could be disastrous.  

Military equipment has unique properties that are applicable to other sectors. Source: Shutterstock

OEMs consider this when supplying equipment to the defence sector, no matter the product. For example, batteries must be made from waterproof materials, have the ability to withstand physical punishments, and even in instances where the battery is fired upon, it must not explode or become dangerous. 

The takeaway here is that other sectors do not have the high demands that are core requirements of military equipment. For example, in the medical industry, it’s vital that batteries do not fail when supporting life-critical devices.

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Ultralife’s batteries for the military market have 5-LED state of charge indicators, allowing soldiers to quickly determine whether they need to charge or replace their battery, ensuring that the device doesn’t simply fail without warning.

In a hospital, the same technology can be used for devices such as infusion pumps, which provide patients with a constant supply of the drugs they require. Having this state of charge indicator means that a busy nurse can quickly identify which batteries need changing or charging.

The rise of the medical wearables market is also demanding more robust wearables. As Brian W. Wu PhD explains, “new advances in wearable technology have the potential to transform the way clinicians and patients are able to manage chronic conditions”.

Medical wearables are increasingly being used to manage chronic conditions as opposed to being predominantly used as an activity tracking tool. As a result, these devices need to be physically durable. This will ensure that any data collected will not be compromised if the device is knocked or falls into the water.

Another emerging sector where reliability is key is robotics. The collaborative robot market is expected to reach $1 billion in 2020, so there are many opportunities for OEMs in the defence industry to take advantage of this growing market.

Reliability is also key in the robotics sector, especially when working alongside people. Equipment must not fail as it could endanger a person if a robotic arm suddenly collapsed, or an autonomous system suddenly stopped in the path of a forklift truck.

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OEMs in the defence sector already have experience designing for a complex and demanding market, as a result, many OEMs are already prepared them for the needs of the robotics sector, where the inability to consider battery needs results in robot failure.


For a robotic arm to move, the battery needs to draw high amounts of current for only microseconds. While this was not a problem for older lead-acid batteries, it has become a problem with newer, more advanced lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

Newer batteries have protection circuits built in, which means that when the current is drawn by the robotic arm, the battery’s short circuit protection is activated. This stops the arm from moving correctly, meaning the robot cannot perform its task effectively.

This was a problem for inexperienced battery manufacturers, who failed to see how the battery’s protection circuits would affect its purpose. It is only through decades of experience in providing reliable batteries to the defence industry that Ultralife has developed the capacity for OEMs to incorporate Li-ion batteries into the robotics without this happening.

Experience with ECM and interference

Military technology is continuously evolving with new sensors, displays, communications devices and more,  being used by soldiers and their vehicles. This means that electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is essential to prevent electromagnetic interference (EMI) from preventing devices from functioning correctly. In the US, all electrical and electronic systems, subsystems and equipment must be compliant to MIL-STD-461G, and to Defence Standard 59-411 in the UK.

handheld_radio_image_1

This means that OEMs are accustomed to designing to EMC standards, with the US military’s EMC standard considered to be one of the world’s strictest. OEMs can, therefore, apply this knowledge to other sectors that also rely on high standards of EMC.

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Going back to the medical industry, EMC regulations are just as strict. With numerous complex pieces of equipment dotted around any ward, designers working on a medical project must consider the EMC implications of their work. For example, a charger for a medical device must not interfere with a pacemaker or an imaging system that could lead to inaccurate results.

The same applies in industrial sectors such as aerospace. When using borescopes to check for signs of damage or take measurements inside jet engines, the equipment must be extremely accurate. For this reason, EMC regulations are similarly strict, comparable defence and medical sector, meaning that OEMs accustomed to designing components for already highly regulated sectors will have an advantage over competitors.

It’s clear to see that OEMs who already have years of experience in the defence sector, also have skills and knowledge that can be transferred to other sectors. Advanced research and development, high reliability and experience of complying to strict EMC regulations put these OEMs ahead of many others.

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Just as Ultralife has brought its experience of the battery industry into other thriving and growing sectors such as medical, robotics and aerospace, other equipment manufacturers should see how they can apply the lessons of designing for the defence industry to allow the business to grow in other sectors.

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