As one of the original equipment manufacturers supporting the focused ultrasound industry, Onda Corporation plays a critical role in ensuring that the technology is safe, precise, and delivered with the highest possible quality.
One of Onda’s products, a gel phantom, was used to demonstrate the power of focused ultrasound in front of an audience that included John Grisham at the 2018 Consumer Electronic Show (CES). We interviewed Petrie Yam, Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Operations, to learn more about the multitude of ways Onda has been making a difference for the past 30 years.
Where is the company headquartered and does it have any additional locations?
Onda is headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA, the heart of Silicon Valley. We are also proud to collaborate with our partners across the world. NTR Systems, an engineering firm located in Seattle, provides technical expertise to develop and support our products. Furthermore, we have an active network of sales and support partners globally to reach our customers.
How was the company started?
The company was originally founded in 1990 as Intec Research by Dr. Claudio Zanelli to provide R&D services for developing novel medical devices. In 2001, Dr. Zanelli’s friend and owner of an engineering firm called Specialty Engineering Associates (SEA), Dr. Alan Selfridge, passed away. Dr. Zanelli acquired SEA’s assets and changed the name of the company to Onda to provide a fresh start. The Latin root of Onda means wave. Today, Onda focuses on developing technologies to measure ultrasound waves.
How did you get involved in starting or joining the company?
I joined Onda in 2010 with an initial focus to grow the top line. Coming from a large capital equipment company where I managed products that measure nanometer-level structures, I learned that a solid strategy starts with solving big problems with unique solutions. I was fascinated by Onda’s technical capability and dreamed about the opportunities to grow in different markets.
Tell us about your company structure: ownership, lead executives, and their roles.
Onda is privately held by Dr. Claudio Zanelli, its founder and CEO. Dr. Sam Howard is CTO and runs the Acoustics Laboratory. I serve as Vice President overseeing the Sales, Marketing, and Operations.
What products and/or services does your company offer?
We focus on providing ultrasonic measurement solutions. Our products are used to acoustically test devices in the medical, industrial, and electronic markets for safety and quality purposes. The products cover all standard methods—point-like detectors of ultrasound called hydrophones, robotic scanning tanks, optical means to map the ultrasound field, and instruments to measure the total acoustic power. We also provide services to test, calibrate, design, and manufacture the most complex ultrasonic devices. We are proud to have served more than 1,000 unique customers representing Fortune 10 companies, government research centers, and the most prominent universities.
What are some of the technical challenges your group overcame to develop reliable ultrasound measurement tools?
We have always dreamed about offering a one-size-fits-all product. However, technical limitations have led us to offer a spectrum of products to satisfy the wide mix of applications we serve.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is a good example. Acoustic output levels can go beyond 100 MPa of pressure, which can quickly damage traditional hydrophones with piezoelectric materials. To work around this, customers often make proxy measurements under conditions that are “tuned down” and use theory to extrapolate back to higher output. Of course, there are advantages to making direct measurements at the treatment location. This inspired the development of a hydrophone product (HFO) based on a different measurement principle, detecting the reflectance from an optical fiber which can withstand pressure levels up to 500 MPa.
What challenges do you have to tackle moving forward?
Although the adoption of ultrasound treatments is imminent, reliable methods to test its safety and quality are still being refined. Details like correcting for measurement artifacts, mechanical alignment, and traceable calibration of the instrument add to the complexity. Despite this, a quick go/no-go indication is necessary for both laboratory and clinical settings. Products like our HIFU tissue-mimicking phantom address this need. The proprietary blend is a clear synthetic gel that produces lesions of the same position, size, and shape as those in real tissue.
The art of problem solving is to provide a simple solution for a complex problem. When we develop products, we try to strike the right balance among competing requirements, such as bandwidth, sensitivity, robustness, ease-of-use, and cost.
What is unique about what your company does over your competitors?
This might be best answered by stepping back to Onda’s early days. Our first medical customer was Diasonics’ Therapeutics Division, in 1990, which later became Focus Surgery. The project goal was to develop transducers for a prostatic HIFU system that eventually competed with EDAP. Testing those transducers inspired the design of the OptiSon, a schlieren imaging system later sold to Focus Surgery, now Sonacare. The birth of this product literally started with us in the shoes of a customer!
Taking this perspective has guided us to manage customized requests, particularly important for a developing field like HIFU. The challenge is not knowing what the customer needs to accomplish a particular clinical result. We solve this by offering the service to test an idea by measuring it in our lab usually using the same standard products we offer. This engagement allows us to explore what is feasible, provide timely results, and validate a method for a customer who wants to build their own in-house capability. It also keeps us engaged with advanced applications, which helps shape our product roadmap. At Onda, we joke about receiving “cust-ard” requests that stem from the R&D interest to customize a standard product to support a new application. We like custard.
Do you partner with other companies?
Absolutely. Establishing partnerships throughout our entire supply chain is critical for us – from manufacturing to engineering to sales, and of course to our end-customers. Despite having a solid vertical, our partnerships with the research and regulatory community allow us to reach into new capabilities, technologies, and applications with a practical approach. In addition to serving the academic community, we collaborate on research projects with well-known ultrasound leaders, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and we are deeply engaged with writing new standards used for regulating ultrasound through the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Not many commercial organizations have this deep perspective on both the market and the scientific-regulatory needs. One partner who deserves special mention is Mr. Richard Twomey, the ‘T’ in NTR Systems, who has been contributing to the field of medical ultrasound testing for three decades. We are pleased to work closely with him to solve complex ultrasound problems.
Is your system approved for commercial use in any markets? If so, how is it being used in these markets?
Our role in the medical space is to work with medical ultrasound manufacturers to ensure their devices are safe and effective. We do this by assisting in all phases of their product life cycle. This often starts with feasibility testing during R&D, shifts to conformance testing for regulatory needs, and concludes with QC monitoring in manufacturing.
Which medical ultrasound applications are your technologies used for?
We strive to support all ultrasound measurement applications – both medical and industrial. For medical ultrasound, this includes measurements for diagnostic and therapeutic applications. We closely watch the therapeutics field, because it is evolving quickly, and the test needs vary with the broad range of treatment methods. The technologies we have developed focus on acoustically measuring mechanical, cavitational, and thermal parameters.
Is there anything else we should know about your company?
Despite trying times, 2020 is a milestone year for Onda. We are turning the big 3-0 this year and need to find a creative way to celebrate!
Industry Overview: Focused Ultrasound’s Original Equipment Manufacturers April 2020
Focused Ultrasound Featured at CES – The World’s Largest Showcase of Technology and Innovation January 2018