Friday, August 2, 2013

Technicians or magicians?


PRINTING PROTOTYPES: From left, Bondeson, holding a 3D-printed ear, McConnell and Ribeiro


Something is happening in the basement of Ruth Sleeper Hall, the big brick building on the corner of Blossom Street.

Three “tool and die makers,” with more than 120 years experience combined, are taking biomedical technology to the next level – saving time and enhancing care. “We make a clinician’s job easier and safer,” says Bob Ribeiro, “And for researchers ... we build them what they can’t buy.”

Ribeiro, along with John Bondeson and John McConnell, are all senior design technicians in the MGH Biomedical Engineering Model Shop where, for more than 25 years, they have designed, developed and repaired tools and devices to help staff provide the highest level of care. From simple brackets and mounts that optimize the ergonomic layout of bedside equipment, to complex test apparatuses used in research protocols, to three-dimensional anatomical models generated from radiological images, the model shop is able to provide a solution for a wide array of problems.

“It’s really rewarding work,” says Bondeson. “The staff here has all the ideas; we just implement them, and then we get to see what we’ve created throughout the hospital.”

Their most recent creation will be seen when the new MGH Sumner Redstone Burn Center on Ellison 14 opens in September. The technicians are now building four Bacteria-Control Nursing Units, HEPA-filtered plastic enclosures that maintain a controlled environment for patients at risk of infection and hypothermia.

But such projects make up a mere fraction of their work. With the blink of an eye and the transfer of a file, the technicians can take modern digital imaging data and produce a 3-D copy of a body part within a day.

Here’s how it works: a surgeon plans to remove a tumor from the jaw of a patient, but what lies beneath that tumor is unknown. Using the patient’s CT scan, a file is created and converted to 3-D and then the data is sent to the 3-D printer. The printer builds layers of liquid polymer – like the layers of a cake – controlling the shape, and generating a 3-D physical model of the jaw. “This way, there is a rendering of the jaw with and without the tumor,” says Bondeson. “The doctor is able to create a plan of attack prior to surgery. It’s less risk, less time in the operating room and less time for the patient under anesthesia.”


 JAW-DROPPING: Full-size models created from a CT scan


Adds McConnell, “Technology is a timesaver. Before the 3-D printer, it took days to create a model. Now, I go home at night and it’s done the next day.”

No job is too large; no task is too menial. Whether creating an intricate oxygenating device for infants in Third World countries or simply engraving a sign, the technicians are ready to bring ideas to life.

For more information about the Biomedical Engineering Model Shop contact Mike Cusack, PE, CCE, assistant director of Biomedical Engineering, at 617-724-1096 or

Read more articles from the 08/02/13 Hotline issue.

Browse the Entire Newsroom Archive

Back to Top