The experts are primarily engaged in the field of orthopedics and laboratory/clinical automation and cooperate with 30 other Fraunhofer institutes. “In this way, we get expertise at the highest level on many special topics where there are intersections to other research areas,” says Urs Schneider, who is responsible for medical engineering at Fraunhofer IPA. In addition, the researchers work closely with university hospitals across Germany and abroad, especially in the U.S. market.
“Medical technology is a global industry, so we are also doing research globally,” says Schneider. In addition to their technical expertise, Schneider and his colleagues know the regulations in their home country, with all their specialties and ongoing changes: “You need both in medical technology research and development: know-how at the highest international level and at the same time knowledge about the situation in the local market.”
Academic research is key
The medical engineering department of Fraunhofer IPA works largely on behalf of industrial companies. The researchers create feasibility studies, build and test complete prototypes of medical devices such as prostheses and implants or machines on test stands and assist companies in the evaluation of benefit calculations, taking account of Germany’s regulatory requirements.
“Much of this is secret contract research, which we do not discuss with third parties for competitive reasons,” says Schneider. “This is a difference, especially to the U.S., where companies either do research alone or publicly collaborate with universities or institutes.” Finally, the institute has supported a foreign company to develop a machine for the fully automated examination of blood bags for the German market, which makes the error–prone manual examination superfluous. “Until now there was no such machine on the German market,” says Schneider. “It’s a completely new development.”