Monday, 5 March 2012

Design and Healthcare

This article was first published in Architecture Ireland #261

The Rise and Rise of Medical Device Design in Ireland
You may not have known it, but a design discipline experiencing real growth and success here in Ireland is that of medical device design. The field of development and manufacture of medical technology in this country is especially strong, and a short visit to the Irish Medical Device Association’s website will show you some startling – and impressive – statistics on the area’s growth. There are approximately 200 companies here involved in developing, manufacturing and marketing a diverse range of products and services such as disposable wound care products, precision metal implants including pacemakers, orthopaedic implants, diagnostics, contact lenses and stents. Almost half of these companies are Irish-owned, and many are global leaders. Ireland is Europe’s second-biggest exporter of medical technology, and when so many other Irish exports have been falling dramatically in recent years our medical exports have been growing and growing.

Though this is an industry that began in Ireland very much as a manufacturing industry, it is changing to being led by Research & Development, and the role of the designer is very important in this changing structure. Designers and engineers are being employed to initiate new products for the medical field as well as to develop new processes for the manufacture of medical devices. One such manufacturer making this change is U.S. company Nypro, a world leader in plastics manufacturing that serves consumer and electronics industries as well as healthcare. Over the last number of years, Nypro's 270-strong plant in Bray, Co. Wicklow has been making a significant shift from operating solely as a traditional contract manufacturer to a company that collaborates with clients at the earlier concept stages of a medical device's development to create better products and provide effective manufacturing solutions. In order to deliver this, Nypro has assembled a team of highly educated engineers and designers as well as experienced mould makers - a flexible team with varied skills and knowledge bases - to participate in a product's design, development and manufacture. This shift in emphasis is set to continue as Nypro will soon open its first Device Development Centre on its Bray site.
(Triport+ by Advanced Surgical Concepts)

Another Bray-based company, Advanced Surgical Concepts (ASC) is a small innovation-led team working with Olympus to design and distribute products to further advance laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery. The latest device ASC has produced enables surgeons to perform single-port, scarless surgeries for a myriad of medical issues. The device allows surgeons to enter a number of surgical tools all through the belly button, meaning the patient has no additional scarring and a significantly reduced recovery time. This product has been developed over a number of years by a team of engineers and an industrial designer - with much consultation with the surgical field - using the same iterative process any other design discipline would use.

(Triport+ by Advanced Surgical Concepts)

Education in Ireland has been changing to better serve this sector, and a close relationship between academia and industry has in many ways helped medical device development in Ireland to thrive. TCD, UCD and UL have jointly run a Bio-Engineering Masters for ten years now, and two years ago saw the first graduates of an MSc in Medical Device Design offered by NCAD in conjunction with TCD and UCD enter the field. Paul Fortune, Director of the MAN:MEDICINE Design Centre at NCAD believes that the application of creative thinking is of utmost importance in the field of medical device design and development, and NCAD’s MSc. is structured with this very much in mind. Though an emphasis is placed on bio-engineering and other medical-related studies within the course, the vast majority of students’ time is spent on the project-based learning seen in any design course. The Medical Device Design students in NCAD work year-round on projects that connect them directly with the industry, designing solutions to problems faced by medical device manufacturers and indeed the wider medical field. Above all, the course is designed to give students the time, tools and environment to be creative, as it is their creative approach to problem-solving that will bring about major innovations in the industry.

Ireland's medical technology sector has seen extraordinary successes in the last number of decades, and seems set to continue to grow in coming years. With the continued growth of the industry we will see a more and more prominent role for the designer within companies creating innovative solutions for the needs of the healthcare sector. The future for design and healthcare in Ireland is bright.

(Gregor Timlin's tableware in contrasting colours make seeing the edge of a plate, rim of a cup or handle easier to identify for users with sight issues)

Design and Dementia
Irish-born Gregor Timlin – Senior Research Associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design in London’s Royal College of Art – has built up a significant body of research into how design ideas can be applied to care homes for the better of people living with dementia. He has produced a set of prototype tableware to explore ideas of how to more effectively design for those with dementia in mind, and has set up a resource site called Better Care Homes to be used by designers as a jumping off point for designing for care homes.

Pearl O’Rourke – research into Assistive Technologies
PhD candidate at DIT Pearl O’Rourke is looking into how to employ consultative research methods into designing Assistive Technology devices – products which improve the capabilities of those with disabilities. These products can range from walking sticks to motorised wheelchairs, but the particular products Pearl is working on are customisable Computer Input Devices, ie alternatives to sometimes difficult to use keyboards and mice.

(Sleepover by Made*)

Sleepover by Made*
Designed by Made* Design in Dublin, the Sleepover is a sofa bed designed for dedicated healthcare use. It converts from sofa to single bed quickly and easily for a family member, and has a minimum extended footprint, meaning it doesn’t take up significant space when converted to a bed. With a contemporary aesthetic not overtly looking like a healthcare product, Sleepover is currently in use in the Citygate Mahon Medical Centre in Cork.