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Biomedical Engineers: The hidden heroes of the COVID-19 crisis!

With the hugely increased demand for ventilators and other equipment over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the important role that medical technology plays in patient care.

Many people working in engineering have responded to the ongoing crisis by adapting their existing skills and equipment to help fight COVID-19.  But who are these Biomedical Engineers, and what do they do?

What do Biomedical Engineers do?

The role of a Biomedical Engineer includes designing biomedical equipment and devices to aid the recovery or improve the health of individuals. This can include internal devices, such as stents or artificial organs, or external devices, such as braces and supports (orthotics). It can also include creating and adapting medical equipment. It’s a role that requires excellent knowledge of computing, biology and engineering, an inventive nature, and good problem solving skills.

Adapting to help the NHS

Biomedical Engineers from a range of industry backgrounds have been putting their normal tasks to one side to build ventilators and PPE (personal protection equipment) to help the NHS care for the increasing numbers of patients in Intensive Care Units with COVID-19. 

They are using their ingenuity to make the items that are so desperately needed. Many are using reverse engineering techniques to help them to deconstruct items and their parts to help them better understand the make-up of the equipment and the optimum methods needed to recreate them. This process would normally take many months, but the challenge now is to shorten this time frame as much as possible. Items are needed within days or weeks, so they are working to safely speed up the production and testing process, to ensure that equipment is distributed quickly, while still meeting high health and safety requirements such as sterilisation measures set out by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

One of the many processes used in manufacturing is 3D printing. This is a useful tool for engineers, as it allows them to make copies of precise items several times over. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, many small companies or individuals with access to 3D printers are doing their part to produce additional face masks and visors for healthcare workers, and those working in close proximity to other people. 

Airbus, Apple, Babcock, Dyson, Mercedes Formula 1, Tesla and Vauxhall are just some of the big name companies that are currently helping bridge the gap in supply, and some are following specifications provided by the Government to make the process as efficient as possible.

An exciting profession

This pandemic has helped to highlight some of the unseen professions that help to make our health service work, and show the positive impact that Biomedical Engineering in particular can have on people’s lives.

As our Visiting Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering, Ian Chell, commented, “The recent Covid-19 events will change the face of Biomedical Engineering. Now, when you tell people you are learning about Biomedical Engineering, everybody will be able to relate to what you do as you fix the life-saving ventilators. Biomedical Engineering has suddenly become the most important engineering discipline in the world.”

Explore the opportunities

There's a variety of roles and specialisms within Biomedical Engineering so you can work in an area that really interests you.

Find out more