Moving mountains to save patients

| Manufacturing

A sliding gantry brings vital diagnostics equipment to the patient
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Jonathan Newell finds out how industrial and medical engineering combine to improve point of use patient care.

Schaeffler and Siemens are working together to create a system to move computer tomography machines to patients in trauma wards.

The Computer Tomography (CT) scanner is unquestionably one of the greatest life-saving creations of modern healthcare developments, but the devices suffer from one not-so-small problem – they are enormous and heavy.

Consequently, they have always been fixed in one location and the precise positional accuracy that’s required is achieved by moving the patient into the machine, which is fine for routine diagnostic procedures but not so good for diagnosing trauma victims.

According to Wolfgang Reith, a doctor of medicine and director of the Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology clinic at the Saarland University Hospital in Homburg, brain damage caused by a stroke, a hemorrhage or trauma causes two million neurons to die every minute. “Too much time is wasted when patients have to be moved from the emergency unit to a specialist department so that the condition of their blood vessels can be checked using an imaging process,” he said.

Placing an additional CT scanner in the trauma unit results in expensive under-utilisation and so medical diagnostic equipment specialists at Siemens decided to tackle the problem by enabling the machinery to be moved to the patient. For this, they enlisted the help of motion specialist company, Schaeffler.

Sliding gantry

The mechatronics drive system that Schaeffler designed includes a rail guidance system, a floor module, drive technology, a cable column and a ceiling cassette, which guides all of the supply lines required by the CT machine.

The drive electronics for the rail guidance system were also supplied by Schaeffler and the combination of precise electronic control with fine tolerance mechanical guidance enables the CT scanner to achieve the demanding specification on positioning.

The existing practice of moving the patient within the scanner involves low mass and small distances. However, when moving the scanner, the dynamics are entirely different; yet Schaeffler was able to achieve tolerances of less than 0.5mm on reaching the CT machine’s target position, regardless of whether the machine has travelled a few centimetres or several metres. The speed at which the extremely heavy CT machine is moved can be from 1mm/s to 120mm/s, which again must not affect the target position. Additionally, it must also be brought to a complete stop within 10mm if its impact protection system identifies an obstruction in its travel path.

Commenting on the significance of this achievement, Henning Dombek, Vice President of System Solutions at Schaeffler Linear Technology said, “The Sliding Gantry system developed by Siemens and Schaeffler is the first travel drive in the world to fulfill these requirements.”

Saving diagnostic and surgery time

The travelling CT scanner has now found its niche in highly dynamic and time-critical casualty departments. In cases where diagnostic imaging suites are sited adjacent to trauma assessment areas, the machinery can now be “wheeled in” as required, saving vital time in analysing trauma and starting the appropriate treatment as well as benefitting from improved utilisation across both areas.

Additionally, operating theatres can also benefit from the technology. Dr Christoph Dickmann, product manager at Siemens Healthcare, explained how the sliding gantry opens up new possibilities when it comes to CT imaging in the operating room.

“When invasive treatment is carried out in or on blood vessels, the doctor must immediately recognise whether the treatment has been successful. At the same time, the operating team also has the space it needs, since the mobile CT machine can simply be moved out of the way when necessary,” he said.

Flexible design

In order to suit different installations, the sliding gantry is designed by Schaeffler using an intelligently-configured modular system of components and sub-systems from which the company can currently produce as many as 1600 variations on the design.

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