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Paying It Forward

Originally Published MPMN April 2005

EDITOR'S PAGE

Paying It Forward

Mention NASA and what comes to mind? Astronauts in space suits and moon landings? The Challenger and Columbia tragedies? Major Nelson and Jeannie?

Chances are that CAT scans and MRIs weren’t the first things you thought of. But NASA has had a hand in the technology that led to the development of those giant leaps for mankind as well. Other medical breakthroughs that can trace their beginnings to NASA include insulin pumps, kidney dialysis machines, and fetal heart monitors, among others.

To share its wealth of knowledge, NASA has funded a program that provides small businesses with free technical assistance through the U.S. Space Program, aerospace contractors, NASA field centers, universities, and laboratories. These organizations partner with the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) and donate time and expertise to help solve technical challenges for small businesses. Platinum-level Space Alliance partners include AJT & Associates, Lockheed Martin, Team Specialty Products, and Boeing.

Sound too good to be true? Not to the medical device companies that are taking advantage of the program.

In one case, a company’s productivity more than quadrupled in less than two weeks with the help of SATOP. Magnus Bio-Medical Technologies (Ocala, FL) makes water-based gel matrix wound dressings. The gel matrix is manufactured into large sheets, which are placed onto racks for drying before being cut to size. Drying times could be as long as 72–96 hours, which limited productivity.

One of SATOP’s partners came up with three solutions within two weeks. Magnus Bio-Medical Technologies built a new drying chamber based on one of the recommendations. Drying time was decreased to 23 hours.

In another instance, SATOP helped Tabbs Manufacturing (Lufkin, TX) with material selection for its Help Me Upper product. The device is meant to assist people who have difficulty rising from a seated position. However, the original version of the product was too heavy for a patient or caretaker to manage. Also, the surface of the base plate needed to be more abrasive, so it wouldn’t slip, but still maintain its smoothness.

Within a week of the company’s request for help, both problems were solved, and a vital stress-test analysis was done.

“I am pleased that we were able to meet [the company’s] engineering needs and help a small business get on the right track to a successful future,” says SATOP executive director Bob Mitchell. “That’s what SATOP is all about: providing expertise that is not readily available to the small business sector.”

For more information about the program and how to contact a SATOP engineer, visit its Web site at www.spacetechsolutions.com.

Susan Wallace, Managing Editor

Copyright ©2005 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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