Case study: Healthcare manufacture brought closer to home

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Over the next few weeks we will be sharing some case studies of our academic research from across the Bristol Business School. The first case study looks at Professor Wendy Philips research on redistributed manufacturing. Written by Jeremy Allen: 

Health services around the world are under pressure to deliver affordable healthcare while addressing the needs of an aging population and deliver cost-effective, right-first-time treatments close to the point-of-need.

Fortunately, innovative manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing and advanced robotics mean that in the not-too-distant future, we may be able to make medical products in our home, or have print-on-demand personalised medicines made at the supermarket while we shop. Bespoke devices such as prosthetics and orthotics could even be ordered online and delivered to our door the next day.

Paving the way for such a future is a research network called ‘Redistributed Manufacturing in Healthcare Network’ (RiHN). Led by Professor Wendy Phillips at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), RiHN has been investigating the implications and challenges involved in the Redistributed Manufacturing (RDM) of customised healthcare.

RDM is defined as technology, systems and strategies that change the economics and organisation of manufacturing, particularly in relation to location and scale. It supports smaller-scale precision manufacturing, enabling more efficient use of resources, reduced environmental impact and more resilient supply chains that are less susceptible to global shocks.

“The RiHN aims to deliver a collective vision of the research needed to position the UK at the forefront of healthcare manufacturing,” says Professor Phillips.

RiHN is the first dedicated study of RDM in healthcare and the findings have been of particular value to policy-makers and funders seeking to specify action and to direct attention where it is needed.

The team includes researchers involved in manufacturing, healthcare technologies, management and human factors from the Universities of Loughborough, Cambridge, Cranfield, Nottingham, Newcastle and UWE Bristol.

Professor Phillips and her team have produced a White Paper that explores applications in promising areas of healthcare that could benefit from RDM. The UK has a strong network of pro-active research-orientated universities, especially in the fields of medical research and manufacturing engineering, and the UK is well-positioned to become a world leader in this type of manufacturing.

One practical application for this type of manufacturing is likely to be in locations where there is an acute and urgent need for medical supplies, for example during humanitarian crises, natural disasters or even in conflict zones. The first hours are critical for saving lives or reducing the chances of debilitating conditions; this new model of manufacturing could enable rapid diagnosis, production and testing in remote conditions.

As advocated by the 2017 Industrial Strategy Fund, RDM presents an opportunity to shape new industrial capabilities, attract international talent, and advance new science and manufacturing capability. It can also incentivise investments in infrastructure and exploit the potential of digital innovation. Future research and investment in RDM is likely to improve health outcomes for patients and ultimately benefit the UK economy.

 

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