Medical engineering innovation

Engineers in the medical technology industry help create lightweight equipment suitable to provide aid in disaster situations.

Handheld Acuson It's awful to hear of disasters natural or otherwise on the news, however as an engineer, you can play a part in helping these people. It may not involve travelling across the world and rescuing survivors in person, however engineers work in hundreds of sectors where end products find their way into the disaster zones and help save lives.

One huge area that helps lower disaster death tolls is the medical engineering profession. Consistently moving technology forward, the sector has helped to produce lightweight medical equipment that a single paramedic can carry and use in the field.

Over time, engineers have helped to miniaturise life-saving equipment such as defibrillators, so that these can now be taken with paramedics out to where the people need them. But it doesn't stop there, as engineers are continuing to find new ways to help people in danger through new design processes and fresh new innovative ideas.

Richard Chiao is the ultrasound vice president and general manager at Siemens Healthcare Korea [new window]. Holding a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois, he has over 18 years of experience in customer-focused innovations. We caught up with him to find out more about what engineers can offer in this field.

Developing ultrasound technology

"To help save lives as a result of solving technical challenges is very satisfying," he tells us.

"We are constantly pushing the boundaries of ultrasound technology to solve the clinical needs of our customers," he continues. "For example, we recently launched the ACUSON SC2000, an ultrasound system that can image the entire beating heart in real time (20 volumes per second). Next, we will be working on new ways to form ultrasound images that promise to dramatically improve the efficiency of clinicians."

So what is important for engineers to consider during the idea and design process?

"During these processes, it is most important to understand customer needs and wants. It is also essential to understand the competitive landscape, plus the technical and business tradeoffs of different designs," Chiao says.

Medical engineering breakthoughs

Just looking at two of the organisation's recently developed products will show you how sector innovation is moving forward in leaps and bounds.

Deep Bleeder cuff adapts to limb size

The Deep Bleeder Acoustic Coagulation Cuff is a life-saving ultrasound device, designed to limit blood loss from seriously wounded troops on the battleground. Once applied to an injured limb, the cuff automatically detects the location and severity of bleeding, triggering therapeutic ultrasound energy to speed up the blood clotting process. The device is simple enough for use by minimally-trained operators with a compact, lightweight design for emergency situations.

Then there is the P10, a pocket ultrasound device with digital stethoscope capabilities. At a weight of 700 grammes, it is easy to transport and provides detailed information to enhance a physical examination. It is being trialled outside the traditional hospital environment at trauma scenes via ambulances and rescue helicopters to provide instant frontline care to speed up a patient's treatment. Its compact size and portability is a great asset in this environment.

As a student, your academic focus will be on engineering and technology. Your success in your chosen career will depend on your ability to understand how your work affects people.

This is just one example of the differences engineering can make. Perhaps this will be your field of choice and you'll go on to save endless lives through your innovative medical products. Perhaps instead you'll go on to develop a new way to generate renewable energy enabling millions in the developing world to have electricity in their homes, schools and hospitals. You might even work on a road that repairs itself after an earthquake.

One thing's for certain, membership of the IET will help you achieve your goals. Take a look at the IET on Campus, which will give you just a taster of the benefits membership offers. Come along to a local network event, find a mentor, apply for a scholarship, take advantage of Career Manager and INSPEC: the list is endless.

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