Stu­dent’s in­cu­ba­tor looks like a win­ner for SA ba­bies

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JA­NIS KIN­N­EAR

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.

ja­nis.kin­n­ear@inl.co.za

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