"For small and medium sized companies in particular, innovations play a big role. Especially if their products are positioned in high end segments of the market." Wolfgang Braun, who works in the development department of Fritz Stephan GmbH, knows what he is talking about. The medium sized family business from the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate has been developing and selling trend-setting medical technology for premature and newly born babies since 1978, and is viewed as being a global technological leader in the ventilator and anaesthesia sectors. To ensure things stay this way in the future, over twelve per cent of the company's total turnover flows in to research and development into new products and processes. Another key success factor for the innovative ability of the company is the cooperation with different universities, including Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Science.
Using practical tasks, this is where prospective engineers and industrial designers develop technically oriented design studies. It was in 2005 that the previously separate subjects of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and design were amalgamated to form the department for Engineering Sciences and Industrial Design. “If possible, engineers and designers should work together from the first sketch onwards. The work in interdisciplinary teams enables different approaches to flow into the product development process, which results in practical products that have a high degree of utility,” says Professor Hagen Kluge, Director of the Institute for Industrial Design at the University, explaining the associated benefits. This means that in the masters course in ‘Engineering Design’, engineers and designers who already have a bachelor’s degree are taught the basic principles of the appropriate other subject and close contact with business is sought by practically oriented projects.
The collaboration with the company Fritz Stephan GmbH first started in 2007 through Michael Curtis, who was then studying industrial design in Magdeburg. During his bachelor’s dissertation, he cooperated on the development of a ventilator for premature babies. There are around 50,000 premature babies in Germany who need intensive medical care. With their breathing in particular, these tiny tots need gentle encouragement using breathing masks, or so-called prongs, which go into their nostrils. “Premature babies’ skin is not fully formed and therefore very sensitive,” says Professor Hagen Kluge, describing one of the biggest challenges when designing a ventilator solution. “What really would be optimum would be completely non-contact ventilator unit, which naturally isn't possible. Yet our solution comes very close,” explains the Project Manager.
This is the shared design from Michael Curtius and his colleague Sven Ullrich, which prevailed among several concept studies and prototypes by students on the masters course in Engineering Design. The little patients wear caps to which the tubes with the nose prongs are attached. This prevents their heads from being over-strained. To protect the thin, easily injured skin and to prevent the same areas of skin from being strained, prongs and breathing masks are used on an alternating basis. A membrane integrated in the breathing mask also ensures that the mask tightens during inhaling but loosens again during exhalation, thereby reducing the pressure on the skin.
"Since every unnecessary movement affects the premature baby negatively, we attached considerable value to the system's ease of use in the context of the air supply, the support and the nosepiece," explains Michael Curtius. The solution: with the help of a magnet it is possible to attach the respirator attachment to an opening which is positioned on the baby's cap and to adjust it to the different sized heads of the newly born babies.
The result of the semester project also convinced the managers at Fritz Stephan GmbH. Both students at Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Science were given a working contract by the company to develop their prototype to series-production maturity. During the construction of the final design for the clinical tests they were supported by Professor Hagen Kluge. The new ventilator system is now on the market. The cooperation between the company and the university continues today. Among others, an air humidifier is currently being designed for the ventilator system. In view of the success of previous projects, Developer Wolfgang Braun is certain of one thing: "We will continue to cooperate closely with Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Science into the future."