Erney Mattsson is professor and consultant in vascular surgery. He is a leader within a course called "Experts in Teams". He covers the subject "Innovation in Healthcare" " in that course, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Innovation in Healthcare is a thematic area where students from different disciplines are mixed with the task of solving a health problem regardless of previous medical knowledge.
– This diversity of different knowledge and inputs has meant that we have developed completely unique products. In the same way, I am convinced that the mechanical engineering students at Chalmers are well suited for medical development because they have completely open eyes and knowledge to develop prototypes and potential solutions, says Erney Mattsson.
Erney develops various medical problem formulations for the course Integrated design and manufacturing. Previous projects with Erney’s involvement have among other things resulted in sound-insulated folding walls and heating blankets. The product concepts that were developed were solutions to real needs in healthcare where there were privacy problems, and difficulties in keeping the body temperature of the patients. Some of the projects have been so successful that they have resulted in master thesis projects. Erney himself has good practical experience of developing medical technology products together with engineers. For example, a collaboration with the professor in mathematics Torbjörn Lundh, which resulted in a patent for an artificial blood vessel, a so-called vascular prosthesis.
- To me, diversity is a great strength and it was something I really discovered when working with engineers. I think this approach will become more and more common, says Erney.
Different problems can be solved with the same process
The project assignments in the course vary from year to year since they are all based on real world applications. It can be about improving an existing product or having a more open solution to a current need. One of this year's project tasks is to develop a product that counteracts dementia. This may not be something that one think is traditionally linked to the mechanical engineering program. But the students have used the same methodical design process as in any other type of product development. This approach provides valuable experience and insights into how product development and group dynamics work in real life. The project groups have worked to develop concepts for how to meet the need for, in this case, cognitive stimulation.
Most of the groups that worked to counteract dementia came up with some form of app solution where the cognitive ability can be developed and tested. Some groups also had physical products such as a cognitively challenging card game and a "brain calendar" with prompts and tips on daily physical and cognitive activities.
Elin Skönborg comes from Stockholm and attended an aesthetic program in upper secondary school. Elin felt that she wanted to study something more technical and decided to choose the Mechanical Engineering program at Chalmers.
– I’m happy with the Mechanical Engineering program and I have learned a lot. There is so much work put into products that you do not think about. A course like this is challenging because we do not have much knowledge about dementia from the beginning and the solution is quite open. But we have used the tools we received on the course and become more comfortable the more we have worked with the problem. It has also been fun to work in a group where you don’t know everyone from the beginning, says Elin.
Johan Brasch comes from the city of Värnamo and wanted to study something that was broad and concrete and practical, which led to the Mechanical Engineering program at Chalmers.
– We had a hard time in the beginning because this project was a little different compared to a "normal" mechanical problem. But we scaled it down in a way that suited us and used the methods we were taught, and it worked out in the end. I thought it was interesting to see that you can tackle different problems with these methods by working purposefully and systematically. Of course, it was difficult at first since the solution could be so open, but developing an existing product involves other types of difficulties, says Johan.
Complete product solutions require collaboration across subject boundaries
Erik Hulthén, coordinator of the Mechanical Engineering program, believes that the program is broader than generally perceived.
– Products consist of so much more than technical details. We must be able to design complete solutions that include identifying the customer and their needs. As a result, the solutions will often also go beyond the subject boundaries. We generally need to become better at bridging between different disciplines in product development, says Erik.
The collaboration with Erney Mattsson was established after Erik visited NTNU and saw how interdisciplinary they worked with medical technology solutions, and the good results that followed with it.
– Erney is an interesting project developer because his background at NTNU provides different inputs for how to think about projects like this. I think we will see more types of such collaborations in the future. Medical technology is an area that there is every reason for mechanical engineers to work more with, says Erik.
Text: Marcus Folino
More about the course Integrated design and manufacturing
The aim of the project course is to provide possibilities for the students to participate in industry-related product development projects, to train problem-oriented learning and to act in a project environment. The projects have focus on early product development, i.e concept study phases and test and evaluation of physical prototypes or simulation models, and value-based management.