Design Engineering

SolidWorks helps create low-cost infant incubator for third world countries


General DPN

Design that Matters (DtM) has designed a low-cost infant incubator not for production, but to prove it’s possible to create affordable, low-maintenance incubators for Third World countries.

DtM used SolidWorks CAD software as the design platform to assemble a national team of 50 professional engineers and engineering students from MIT, the Rhode Island School of Design, Stanford University, and Arizona State University. DtM challenged the team to design an incubator from automotive components, because they are available even in the poorest regions of the world.

“The idea behind the incubator project was to demonstrate to manufacturers and donors that it is possible to build an incubator for less than $1,000, compared to the $30,000 that a typical commercial unit costs,” said Design that Matters CEO Tim Prestero. “Access to incubators sharply reduces infant mortality, but regions that need incubators the most are also the least able to buy and maintain them. Keeping a baby warm isn’t that complicated, so why aren’t incubators available in part of India and Sub-Saharan Africa? We studied the circumstances, and decided it was a combination of acquisition cost, maintenance cost, and availability of maintenance skills. Cars and trucks are everywhere, so we decided to take advantage of that supply chain and local car repair resources to make a better incubator for those regions.”

DtM’s biggest challenges were adapting automotive parts to a new purpose and fitting all of the components into a form factor small enough to transport to remote locations. The engineers and students modified parts and designed assemblies in SolidWorks. Then they distributed the 3D models over e-mail to each other and DtM.

Prestero said SolidWorks was a logical choice for a standard design platform because it’s widely used in professional and educational settings, and it’s easy to learn and use. Design that Matters reconciled the team’s contributions into a final design, then demonstrated it to potential users. SolidWorks enabled DtM to show the incubator design to potential users all over the world without the expense of transporting a physical prototype.



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