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NHS and engineers join forces to build hub

3D printed exhalation ports - an example of repurposing equipment to meet new demands.
3D printed exhalation ports - an example of repurposing equipment to meet new demands.

An innovative digital and physical engineering hub designed to repurpose NHS equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic is being supported by Cardiff University expertise.

The two-year project, backed by Accelerate, brings together Softgel Solutions Ltd, Innotech Engineering, Cardiff University, and Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board.

Based at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, the Advanced Digital and Physical Engineering (ADPE) hub arose from the repurposing of a Maxillofacial-Dental laboratory and its 3D printing capabilities during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the need to be able react to two issues: the repurposing of equipment shelved in stores, deemed out of order due to lack of parts from suppliers, and opportunities to prototype innovative ideas.

A shortage of supplies at the start of the crisis meant the Health Board could not source certain valves and connectors – including an exhalation value. The innovation hub worked closely with the Respiratory team to create a 3D valve design and enable the production of in-house printed versions.

The Respiratory team has since published this design across their UK national governing body for practice sharing purposes.

Designed to accelerate the impact of game-changing, innovative ideas, the hub brings together staff, patients, academics and industry partners to rapidly respond to issues by developing practical solutions.

Without industry involvement, Health Boards do not have access to equipment, skills or experience to develop this concept. Due to a number of operational, regulatory and practical reasons, external sourcing or off-site engagement has proved too difficult.

Bringing industry capability on board as partners, within a designated working space will enable health boards to rapidly prototype and test ideas, eliminating risk, reducing experimental stages and utilising industry partner know how to scale up production of best solutions.

The COVID-19 emergency has put NHS Wales under real pressure, the success of this project would enable a successful initiative to emerge from it, providing a positive outcome that will increase the resilience of the NHS in the future.

Accelerate is supporting the ongoing development of this innovation hub, by providing academic expertise and by facilitating the expansion of its 3D printing capabilities.

Benefits include the development of a central digital and physical engineering capability that can engage with staff across the Health Board; Health Economic cost analysis; the expansion of a new spin out company (Innotech Engineering), and joined up working with industrial, clinical and academic partners.

The Accelerate collaboration will improve patient and staff engagement with the NHS through an accessible pathway to prototype and test innovative ideas and create future collaborations between industry, academic, and clinical partners, creating jobs and sharing innovation knowledge beyond Wales.

Read the published case study

Development of an advanced digital and physical engineering (ADPE) hub

A case study to facilitate the ongoing development of an innovative, digital and physical engineering hub.