1. A counter for a drug dispenser comprising; a motion sensor which detects vibration, shaking, or movement in any axis; and a display means which indicates how much or how many doses are left in the dispenser.
2. A counter assembly according to Claim 1 wherein the counter can be removed and placed on a new canister.
3. A counter assembly according to Claim 1 wherein the display means by emitting light to indicate status of the remaining drug.
4. A counter assembly according to claim 1 that allows a replaceable battery source without affecting the seal properties of the counter.
5. An electronic counter assembly according to claim 1 that counts the number of displacements between the canister and the housing it is inserted in.
6. A counter assembly according to Claim 5 wherein the count is translated to indicate the status of the contents of the canister onto a display.
7. A counter assembly that uses a motion sensor to detect movement and display a drug status.
8. A counter assembly that is waterproof against water ingress into the counter.
The invention is for a waterproof Inhaler Usage Indicator with or without a replaceable battery, to provide a count of the amount of drug remaining inside the canister with the counter still attached to the canister. It is not limited to inhalers alone, but any type of canister that dispenses through a nozzle when placed inside an housing in order to count the number of displacements between the canister and housing. The status of the drug can be checked at any time by a quick movement of the inhaler in any axis, to allow the motion sensor to initiate the display of the amount of remaining drug uses .
Inhalers are commonly used to administer medication such as bronchodilators, corticosteroids and anti- allergenics to the pulmonary tracts of humans and other animals, and in particular to treat nasal and bronchial complaints such as asthma.
A typical inhaler includes a canister, having a nozzle, containing the drug or medicine, and a detachable casing for attachment to the canister. In most applications, the canister contains the drug in powder or liquid form, and the dispensing action forces out a regulated dose of the drug in aerosol form.
The aerosol may be created using a propellant e.g. CFC or HFA forced through the drug by the dispensing motion, or more preferably in PMDIs (pressurised measured-does inhaler) by creation of a significant overpressure inside the canister.
In most PMDIs, the dispensing action consists of moving the canister relative to the casing, the action of the casing on the nozzle of the canister causing the predetermined dose to be released when the nozzle has been depressed a set distance.
Existing inhalers therefore include a detachable casing having a seat member that is engaged with the canister nozzle when the canister is removably inserted to the casing. In most existing inhalers the seat member includes a gripping portion for gripping the nozzle, so that the canister is held in the casting, but only held so that the canister can be easily withdrawn from the casing by simply pulling the canister and casing in opposite directions. This is the problem that exists. Once the inhaler canister is detached from the housing and mixed with other canisters, for example, to wash the mouth piece out or clean the canister nozzles, there is no means of being able to determine the number of uses that particular canister has left, especially when it is mixed in with other canisters of the same type. It is common for users to have several canisters to ensure that they do not run out of the drug. Keeping count of which canister is still with drugs inside can be a problem.
Typical PMDI canisters for use in PMDIs contain between 60 and 200 doses, and may be used on a daily basis, or only occasionally to relieve particular symptoms. In most cases the patient is unlikely to keep a record of the number of doses administered, so will not be aware when the canister is near to being empty. The patient will not necessarily be immediately aware that the drug is no longer being dispensed when they use the canister as the pressure of the canister, or the dispensing motion, may not change. This could be a potentially serious problem for the patient, resulting in an emergency when they find that the drug in their inhaler had been exhausted by an earlier use. This can cause more anxiety and lead to more emotional distress. Therefore, there is a need for some form of counting device which can count the number of doses dispensed from a canister to provide an indication of when the canister is empty. In order to be of use, such a counting device must accurately record each actuation of the canister.
Previous attempts to provide such a counting device have had a number of drawbacks. In particular, some solutions have been proposed with a counting device which is mounted on the casing of the inhaler and records each actuation of the canister using, for example, a pressure pad or a lever based switch. These devices suffer from the problem that they either have to be reset manually, or if a canister is removed from the inhaler, the counter automatically resets, so if the same canister is replaced (e.g. after cleaning), the reading will be incorrect.
To overcome this problem, there are many other solutions proposed to try and keep a count of the contents of the remaining drug. However most of these also still have the problem that the count of the drug remains with the housing rather than the canister thus making the design have the same problem that the user still does not know how much is left in the canister should they swap it for another. These devices can use different techniques but most of them being too costly to manufacture or are too complex in function to allow them to function correctly when mass produced. While these patents are novel in the technique, non of them consider the impact in manufacturing a solution for the public to use the design sufficiently to provide a reasonably accurate indication of the remaining drug.
The design outlined in this patent is to show how an indicator can be designed for manufacture using the manufacturing experience of the Inventor as well as novel design techniques to provide a calibration free design that can be manufactured for the mass market and provide a form of indication to asthmatic users. It is documented that the University of Michigan in 1995 conducted a survey in which it is reported that 54% of asthmatic users do not know the amount of drug remaining in the canister while only 8% actually tracked the amount of usage. It is apparent that major reasons on the lack of designs in the market are precisely because of the cost and complexity of the designs to provide a manufacturability solution. For example the following patents are considered too complex for manufacture:- PCT WO92/17231 by INNOMED shows a set of contact rings on the canister and a set of sensors in the housing. There is no reference to how this would work in the field when you consider calibration, contact problems inside the housing, assembly and user friendly of removing and reinserting the canister. The count is still displayed on the housing rather than on the canister.
Patent US006148815A by James L Wolf shows very complex design built into the housing that will allow to do a number of functions of counting and interfacing to external devices. The one function it does NOT do is to allow the canister to keep the count on the canister so once removed from the housing there is no knowledge of what is left in the canister when reinserted to the housing. Again for manufacture assembly it is very complex and difficult making the unit costly and difficult to use.
EP 0684047 A3 by Walker, William shows a complex counting system attached to the side of the housing and using the vertical displacement of movement of the canister to count. Again housing contains the count while the canister once removed has no means of indication what amount of drug is remaining. Patent US005411173A by Albert Weinstein shows a spray dispenser. This is similar to the Walker William version except it is upside down for use with an upright spray. The problem again is the complexity to achieve the count and again it does NOT hold the count on the canister when it is removed from the housing.
Patent US006202642B1 by Robert J McKinnon shows a very complex design in which the canister is complexly housed in the housing. Again once removed from the housing there is no count retained by the canister.
Assembly for manufacture is very complex and difficult to use .
Patent WO 02/36190 A2 by Glaxo Group ltd gives a design which incorporates feedback of the drug being released when the dispenser is used. This is accurate but complex to manufacture and calibrate for the user. Again the counter is NOT retained with the canister once removed from the housing.
Patent US005284133A by James S Burns gives a detailed design based on the counter on the housing. Again the count is not retained by the canister once removed from the housing.
The above list is just a few of the designs that have been invented. They all use the relative motion of the canister to the housing to dispense the drug and have numerous ways of indicating the usage. The problem with most of them is that they use the housing to hold the count information rather than the canister. Other patents such as WO 031/103759 Al by Trumeter company ltd and WO 01/28887 by Glaxo Group Ltd has the indicator on the nozzle and has it assembled onto the front part of the canister. The relative movement of nozzle to this attachment is the method of count. This is an acceptable design but it is complex to manufacture.
All of the designs use power from a battery and do not necessarily disclose the replacement of it and some may be subject to being thrown away after use due to the battery expiring.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The design herein shows a design that is relatively simple to manufacture while allowing the battery to be replaceable and also retain the count with the canister instead of the housing. It contains a feature that when it is shaken, a motion sensor will be activated and it will initiate an indication of the status of the amount of drug remaining in the canister Accordingly, in its broadest description, the present invention provides a usage counter for a canister assembly including: a canister which has a canister body for containing a substance, for example, a drug, a usage counter assembly which indicates the count and a standard housing which houses the canister assembly such that the top counter assembly engages with the canister housing to count the number of uses, a battery insertion slot, to allow the removal and replacement of the battery while keeping the electronics isolated and waterproofed.
In the event the canister is removed form the standard housing, the usage counter assembly will remain on the canister. In the event the canister is placed accidentally in the water the counter circuit will not be at risk and all that needs to be done is the replacement of the battery. The electronics inside the counter can store the count of the number of drugs dispensed at any time of its use. This can be done in a variety of ways using memory or a special register which contains the usage information.
The design is based on indicating its use by visual means of either a Liquid crystal display (LCD) or preferably a light emitting diode (LED) form when the user uses the inhaler to administer the drug. The display is not limited to electrical means but can also be a mechanical view adjusted by a set of wheels to display the count value. The means of saving power for giving the status of the unit a vibration sensor is used to detect severe side force which will cause an internal electrical contact to be made and so initiate an indication of the LEDs or LCD to display the current usage of the indicator. This technique allows the non use of an external switch keeping the electronics isolated from the external user. It also prevents the drainage of the battery as it will always require a force to cause the indication as a result nothing will happen if it is stationary . Therefore, it is preferable that a canister assembly according to the present invention can be inserted to any standard inhaler casing
Brief Description of the drawings The following figures show the assembly of the counter assembly as follows:
• Figure 1 is the complete system assembly.
• Figure 2 is the exploded view of the standard housing, canister and counter assembly. • Figure 3 is the cross section cut view showing how the 3 main parts are assembled.
• Figure 4 is the cross section of the main counter assembly . • Figure 5 is the exploded view of the counter assembly showing all the main parts etc but not the smaller components such as resistor, capacitors etc.
• Figure 6 is the exploded view of the battery assembly . • Figure 7 is the view showing the insertion of the battery into the counter and the battery cover.
With Reference to figure 1 this shows the fully assembled inhaler unit ready for use. The counter  is assembled onto the main housing  and in the orientation showing the position of the mouthpiece  . Figure 3 shows the counter  removed off the canister  which is inserted into the main housing. Figure 3 shows the section view of the full assembly and indicates the coupling of parts. The canister nozzle  is inserted into the main housing actuator  . Under normal operation the top part of the counter is depressed and the nozzle is depressed into the actuator until the valve inside the canister releases the drug. The drug then disperses through the mouth piece. In this embodiment the tri colour LED  is shown at the top of the counter and that would then light up into the magnified dome  to indicate successful drug release and indicate the remaining amount of drug in the canister. The current embodiment is based on a traffic light system such that if the number of doses is 200 in the canister, then the LED will change its colour of light based on the amount of drug left. It is preferable that the following table shows the way the light changes colour according to the remaining drug, drugs could be while there is more than 100 drugs inside the canister the light emitted by the LED [The LED  shown in Figure 4 and his can be done by using a display to show the numerical use of the canister counting down from 200 or up from 0 to 200, or by a simple means of light changing similar to a traffic light system where GREEN single flash indicates more than 100 does remaining, AMBER single flash can indicate less than 100 doses remaining and RED single flash indicating less than 20 remaining and the user should think about replacing the canister and a RED flashing many times indicating either empty or less than 5 doses. Example of Indicator status No of doses more then 100 single LED flashes GREEN No of doses less then 100 single LED flashes AMBER No of doses less then 25 single LED flashes RED
No of doses less than 0 3*LED Flashes Red
The above is an example of the function and the organisation is not set in stone and can be changed to alternative values depending on what the range of doses is present in the canister. Also the choosing of LED colour is a choice by the manufacturer and can be any colour available whether it is a tri colour LED or single colour LEDs placed together under the magnification dome  .
The Spring  and probe  assembly allow the function of a motion sensor in its simplest form to provide a short circuit to the spring in the event the spring is displaced with side to side movement. Any motion sensor can be used but this form allows minimum power to be used to detect vibration or movement in any axis.
In an alternative embodiment an LCD can replace the LED and so the number can be viewable from the dome on the number of remaining doses. The embodiment would depend on the user friendliness required. A Traffic light system requires no reading for children and is much more acceptable by changing colours. Children usually associate colours much more readily than with text or numbers. Seeing the colour red will make them much aware of danger than a numeral setting. In a different embodiment, the display means may include at least two or three LEDs. Preferably, the display means includes control means for operating one or more of the LEDs for a predetermined time interval, at a predetermined point in the operation of the device. The operation of the LEDs for a suitable time after a dose is dispensed from the canister has the advantages of conserving battery life and also serving as an indication that a dose has been dispensed. The cross section view of the counter shown in
Figure 4 gives a view of the assembly of the counter and the position of parts within the counter. The elastomeric Mat switch  is the main switch that will detect the movement of the canister with respect to the housing wall. When this is depressed in it will allow the main processor on the pcb to count the drug and then light the LED with the correct colour.
The length of the switch  is dependent on the housing length of the standard housing the canister is placed in. The different housings can be catered for by simply changing the switch dimensions to adjust the length. This makes the counter adaptable to many different shapes without changing the actual functional characteristics of the design. The base can be adjusted so the contour of the base design follows the housing form
The switch is held in position by a plate  which is ultrasonically welded to the base plate and so creates a seal against the ingress of liquid. The plate  also has the battery connections moulded into it to provide a similar seal against liquid ingress into the counter assembly. The plate is weld in place to maintain the waterproof protection. The base and cover plate together provide a housing for the battery  which connects to the pcb using the metal contacts [21, 22] weld to the plate given in Figure 6. This design technique allows for the power to be replaced while keeping the electronics isolated from liquid ingress. The battery contact can be preformed made by any conductive material and is not just limited to metal. The main design function is to provide the electrical connection to the pcb without allowing a path for liquid ingress, but at the same time provide a replaceable power source that allows the counter assembly to be used time and time a gain. Figure 7 shows how the battery is inserted into the counter and can be hidden using the battery cover  that clips into position.
The whole design is ultrasonically welded together to allow the design to make it completely sealed from liquid ingress. It is known that the water ingress can occur into the battery compartment  but the only damage that will occur is that the battery terminals are short and will drain the battery. It will not cause any problem to the actual counter assembly function and the function can be recovered by removing the battery and replacing it with another fresh battery. The battery size is dependant on the power required by the counter assembly and its predicted life time design. In some uses the battery can be reduced in size to allow a one time function so that it can provide an indication to the user that when a new canister is to be used, a new battery must also be replaced and so there will be no wasted energy. The typical life usage of an inhaler drug can be up to 6 months from first use. This then allows the power calculations to be done in order to match the lifetime of the drug use date. The user can remove the counter assembly from the canister and reuse it onto another canister due to the friction fit of the counter onto the canister. In this event it is recommended that the user also replaces the battery so that the counter is protected with sufficient power for a normal standard use. The removal is simple as the counter is friction assembled on top of the canister.
The battery replacement will re-initialise the counter from initial conditions. The overall function of the counter is to provide a warning when a number of doses equal to the upper limit or the starting number has been dispensed. Alternative warnings means may also be used, be it audible or visual as shown in this embodiment. Examples of the display can be mechanical display, a clock, LED or an ICD, any of which may display the number of doses dispensed and/or remaining, and may display other information as well, which may, according to the patterns displayed, indicate one or more states of the canister (e.g. full, in use, nearly empty and/or empty) .
Thus, in normal use, the status of the canister can be clearly seen or heard.
Preferably, all of the components of the counter switch and display means are sealed within the body. The PCB contains the electronic Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) which controls the functions of the counting and display drivers. Other components that are needed such as resistors, capacitors and switches are all on the PCB so that a full electronic function circuit is realised. These electronic components are used in various orientations and locations placed on the pcb so that the space envelope used is minimised and the manufacturability is optimum for cost and ease of assembly.
It is to be understood that variants of the above described examples of the invention in its various aspects, would be readily apparent to the skilled person, and may be made without departing from the scope of the invention in any of its aspects.