Apprentices from BAE Systems have designed and manufactured medical equipment that can help soldiers injured in Afghanistan get on the road to recovery.
The Apprentice Innovation Challenge 2011 has seen seven teams of apprentices work over the past nine months to produce devices that solve one of two problems affecting service men that have returned to the UK for critical care.
The first option was to produce a device that gives a wider view of the world to critical care patients, who often spend days lying flat on their backs staring at the ceiling because they cannot move themselves or turn their heads.
The second option was to invent a piece of physiotherapy equipment that can be used to exercise and build up strength in patients' muscles while in bed.
The teams worked with staff and patients at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham to design the equipment. Mike Hammond, chief executive of the hospital, said: “These devices solve real challenges faced by injured soldiers during the first stages of their recovery and rehabilitation.”
A team from BAE's Rochester facility scooped the gong for overall project winner, with a design for a voice activated wider view device. The product comprised a mobile, over-bed stand housing three cameras that give different views of the ward, a screen to watch the footage and the associated hardware and software. By tapping a hand held controller or speaking to the device, the patient can switch between the cameras to reveal a view of the hospital ward, a view of themselves or the view from an adjustable camera for visitors.
Other entries solving this problem included a 360 degree swivelling camera that can be controlled by puffing and sipping into a mouth piece attached to a headset. And a set-up that in addition to an adjustable camera and viewing screen, gave family and friends the opportunity to leave photos and video messages for patients on a USB stick for display on the screen.
The physiotherapy device category saw several innovative ideas. A team from BAE's Portsmouth facility designed a remote controlled winch system that uses gravity to strengthen the core muscles of a patient who has recently lost limbs. Another team created a device with a steering wheel that can be pushed and pulled or turned in either direction to strengthen grip and build upper body muscles.
A team from Warton used resistance tubing to make an inexpensive strap, bar and handle set that can be used by patients in a hospital bed or chair to do bench press, bicep and tricep curl exercises to build up strength in the shoulders, chest and arms. The group have already applied for a patient to cover the toggle that controls the resistance level of the equipment.
A panel of five judges assessed the devices using a variety of criteria, including the standard of the final build, project planning and life cycle management. Judge Clyde Warsop, executive scientist at BAE Systems, said that the panel was impressed by the passion and understanding that the apprentices had shown and their desire to make a difference to the cause.
Mike Earl, a forth year technical apprentice who worked on the steering wheel physiotherapy device, said: “Like many of the apprentices I've never worked on a project from start to finish and this challenge has allowed me to do this. I've developed my knowledge of working with external contractors and working in the team has built my confidence.”
Richard Hamer, education director and head of early career programmes at BAE Systems, said: “The future of our business relies on apprentices.” He added that the specialist skills required by the company cannot be recruited from outside the company and apprenticeships provide the foundation for training.
One team has already donated their device to the hospital, with others invited to follow suit. Hammond said that the hospital will continue to develop the products.