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Thermwood

Carbon Fibre Baby Incubator

16 November 2003

An innovative product using the latest technology to produce a lightweight intensive care unit for infants is set to breathe life into a fledgling Scottish firm.

Neil Farish, 24, has already made a name for himself in the business world, picking up £1000 as winner of this year’s Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

But as you would expect from someone with one eye on the future, he won’t be blowing the money on a big celebration. Instead it will be going straight into the accounts of Edinburgh-based Lightweight Medical, the company he founded with business partner Neil Tierney, 25, in March.

The two graduates of product design and engineering from Glasgow University plan to design and produce medical equipment using the latest advanced materials and they are now working hard to bring their first project to the marketplace. The design is for a new transport incubator, allowing critically ill babies to be moved between hospitals. This sophisticated piece of medical equipment will be the first of its kind in 20 years and acts as a self-contained intensive care unit.

It was whilst looking for an idea for their final-year project at university the pair stumbled upon problems with the existing incubator and decided there was a market for an improved design.

""We were able to have a look around a hospital and staff there basically pointed us in the direction of the incubators, which they were really unhappy with,"" Mr Farish explains.

""They are basically big steel trolleys, really bulky and heavy, which doesn’t make them very practical. They are functional, they work fine, but they weigh about 225kg, which is a hefty bit of kit.

""Another big problem the nurses were concerned about was the power supply for the various life support systems, which doesn’t last very long, meaning it could run out of power on a long transfer from one hospital to another. So we are looking at improving that.""

The old design also drew complaints for its lack of a human touch. Babies are lifted in and out of the incubator through a flap in the top and there are wires running everywhere.

In stark contrast the prototype from Lightweight Medical is a sleek, modern unit using moulded carbon-fibre materials.

The incubator itself is a clear cylindrical container with a small mattress for the infant patient, access ports for the nurses and a top which opens up completely, allowing medical staff to put in or remove the baby without any fuss.

While focused on producing a lightweight, attractive incubator for the market, Mr Farish and his partner always remembered their design had to be used by medical professionals. ""We have been very careful with this and we have had doctors and nurses coming in at every stage of the development to look over the unit and see if there is anything we were missing or any problems they could see,"" he says. ""It has been a great experience as they have provided us with really positive feedback on the design. The lightweight materials used for the incubator are something the pair experimented with at university, and Mr Farish was at a loss to explain why they are not used by more manufacturing companies. ""They really are underused at the moment, perhaps because most manufacturers see them as being too expensive to work with,"" he says. ""If you use them correctly it is actually very economic and the benefits are enormous."" The company will be unveiling its prototype for the incubator at an exhibition in The Lighthouse, Glasgow, which opens next Thursday. Until then, the unit is being kept under wraps.






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