Student’s incubator looks like a winner for SA babies
A STELLENBOSCH student has high hopes that her innovative, batterypowered neonatal incubator could, in the future, not only replace costly imports, but also serve health facilities in South Africa’s rural areas and other developing countries.
Demonstrating her design this week, aimed to be an improvement on two previous versions, fourth year mechatronic engineering student at Stellenbosch University Debbie Lloyd said it was crucial to ensure the incubator would require minimal maintenance and be easily transportable.
As part of her final-year dissertation, the 22-year-old had a year to build the device, most commonly used as an intensive care unit for premature babies.
Placed on a counter in the university’s mechatronics lab, Lloyd explained that it could still function in the event of a power failure.
“It runs for up to 40 minutes without electricity, but with a larger battery it could go up to two hours without being plugged into a power source,” she said, adding that she’d used easily accessible and cheap light bulbs as the heating component.
The incubator also has a fan for ventilation and heat distribution, a sponge to aid water evaporation and a temperature controller.
“The controller has a relay which switches the bulbs off once the temperature reaches 35.7 degrees Celsius to prevent the incubator from becoming too hot and harming the baby,” Lloyd explained.
She was encouraged in her research by a visit to Tygerberg hospital where she saw a room full of incubators which couldn’t be used because they were imported and too expensive to repair. So her aim is to specifically see her version manufactured locally, with parts available “at a fraction of the cost”.
Lloyd’s lightweight incubator cost just R3 000 to build. An imported unit can cost as much as R50 000.
Machine design and thermodynamics lecturer Liora Ginsberg said Lloyd’s prototype took less time than imported units to heat up to the optimum temperature required.
And while it was a long way from being approved, Ginsberg said it had huge potential.