Developing safer emergency transportation for newborn babies

Dr Panchalingam Suntharalingam has worked with Paraid, a division of Evac+Chair International, to design and manufacture a new ambulance trolley that significantly reduces the risk of injury to newborn babies during high-speed emergency ambulance transportation.

Ambulance trolley primary

Research summary

Evidence shows that the NHS spends £1,000,000 or more on post-neonatal care when excessive g-forces during emergency ambulance transfers contribute to brain or other vital organ injury on a neonate (a baby under four weeks old).

When a neonate is left unprotected, strong g-forces during emergency transport can contribute to debilitating brain damage such as cerebral palsy, and serious crashes can lead to potentially fatal outcomes for both the neonate and the ambulance crew.

To remedy this, Panchalingam and BCU’s Birmingham School of Architecture and Design formed a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with Birmingham-based Company Evac + Chair International to develop the Impact Resistant Interface System (IRIS) for ambulance trolleys.

The IRIS aims to reduce the risk of brain movements within the cranium under heavy ambulance acceleration and deceleration. When attached to common NHS, UK and European Ambulance trolleys, the IRIS system significantly reduces the effect of speed fluctuations and is capable of mitigating the consequences of a crash up to 40MPH.

Research background

Dr Suntharalingam was instrumental in providing the engineering knowledge required for developing the Impact Resistant Interface System (IRIS).

This included the methodology required for calculating the g-forces exerted on a neonate, as well as the critical damping required within the trolley during emergency ambulance transfers and in the event of a crash of up to 40MPH.

The IRIS system not only stabilises the neonate but also allows the attachment and quick release of common neonatal products such as oxygen and other life-support supply, preventing these objects from becoming dangerous projectiles in the event of a crash.

Utilising Dr Suntharalingam’s calculations and a newly-created software simulation-training programme, Birmingham City University graduate of the BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Alex Round was able to assist in the testing of the software simulation required for developing the damping system without the need for Evac + Chair to conduct time and cost-intensive prototype building and physical testing.

Outcomes and impact

There are approximately 16,000 ambulance transfers of premature and sick babies each year in Britain, according to the UK Neonatal Transport Group. Many of these transfers are needed so that babies can be cared for in the correct type of neonatal unit.

The development of IRIS allows safer ambulance transfers for these neonates and can also protect ambulance staff from injury and death caused by unsecured equipment moving during a crash.

As a result of the project, Evac+Chair has gained international recognition for its safety standards as well as improving sales and developing a more efficient manufacturing process.

By focusing on reducing g-force and improving product safety standards, Evac+ Chair now has new innovative products for sale in the UK, EU, USA and international markets.

Furthermore, within one month of completing the KTP, the company sold 13 new ambulance trolleys each costing £18,500 (£240,500 in total) to Qatar. Continuous growth in the new Middle Eastern market is expected to continue from this initial order.

The company also secured a substantial contract to supply the NHS Nightingale centres across the UK.

Ges Wallace, Managing Director, Evac+Chair International, said:


Panch Suntharalingam

Course Director for MA Design and Visualisation

Dr Panch Suntharalingam is currently the Course Director for MA Design and Visualisation and Associate Professor for International Partnerships. He is also the Chair of the  Partnerships School Learning, Teaching, Assessment and Quality Committee [PSLTAQ] at the Birmingham School of Architecture and Design.

He teaches product design, interior design and interior products design in the UK and at BCU partner institutions abroad and his areas of expertise and interests include: design and visualisation, engineering product design, industrial design, knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) programmes, software programming, enterprise development, medical product design, interior products, research and rapid prototyping and computer aided design (CAD).

His wealth of experience in the manufacturing industry includes 'knowledge transfer partnerships', gaining three first class Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) awards for achievement in innovation. He is also an external examiner at various national and international universities at undergraduate and postgraduate level.