Product Design I Performance and Manufacturing Engineering I Production Liaison
Preterm birth is the leading cause of death for children under five years old . Every year, we see an estimated 15 million babies born before 37 weeks gestation ! Moreover, nearly 1 million children under five die because such births are complicated. Most importantly, we can save almost three quarters of them with current treatment !
One of the significant factors contributing to the death of preterm babies is Hypothermia. Hypothermia means death due to extreme cold. What is most surprising that for preterm babies, this occurs at room temperatures which are otherwise comfortable for adults !
Infant incubators help preterm infants maintain safe body temperature in hospitals. However,they cost thousands of dollars and require a stable source of electricity to operate. On top of this,many go unused because the preterm babies who needed them were often born in villages far away.
The Embrace founders understood that preterm babies needed to be kept warm till they reached the hospital. Also they had to ensure heating without using electricity from a mains !
Team Embrace used specialized temperature-regulating materials to solve this problem. These materials keep a near-constant temperature despite gaining or losing heat energy. Also known as “phase change materials”, they release heat energy, which is used to keep the infant warm. As they give heat, they change from liquid to solid. To reuse them, we simply heat them and they turn to liquid back again.
At the core of the Embrace Infant Warmer, is a swaddle or a tiny sleeping bag that cradles an infant. Embrace designed the sleeping bag to have two compartments, one for the baby and the other for the phase change material. As a result, we designed the phase change materials so that they can be placed in this compartment and provide warmth to the baby.
Here, we selected a phase change material melts or solidifies around normal human body temperature. What this meant is that the baby will feel the same warmth as it would have felt in its mother’s embrace ! Also as the phase change material is now liquid, the baby will feel as if its sleeping on a water bed.
To achieve this, we designed a heater that could uniformly heat to 38 degree Celsius. We added a sensor that calculates the actual temperature accurately, and displays ‘OK’ when the element is ready to use. Once done, the nurse removes the element and puts it into the swaddle. As a result,the baby now receives warmth from the element for an hour. While one element keeps the baby warm, the nurse puts another into the warmer. This element now turns to liquid storing the heat within. As the first element grows cold, the nurse replaces this with the newly heated element. This goes on till the baby reaches a hospital.
Embrace infant warmers have cared for over 200,000 low birth weight and premature infants across 20 countries in the developing world. To achieve this, Embrace has tied up with GE Healthcare. Today, Embrace infant warmers are manufactured by Phoenix Medical Systems in India and are available for a small fraction of the cost of standard incubators