Keyhole surgery on wing ready for take-off

Graham Bowland

Graham Bowland

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SURGICAL Innovations is to use its pioneering keyhole surgery techniques to examine jet engines without having to take them apart.

The group is looking at other industrial areas following a new funding deal with its long-standing industrial partner, thought to be Rolls Royce.

The Leeds-based group said the funding will be used to develop a bespoke solution to allow jet engines to be inspected while they are still on the wing.

At the moment engines have to be completely taken apart and stripped off in order to carry out routine maintenance or fix a problem.

Surgical’s chief executive, Graham Bowland, said: “Our keyhole surgery flexible technology enables us to go into restricted areas, whether they are restricted by space, heat or radiation. It helps to reach places where you can’t go.

“We can find a pathway through and get an instrument through – be it a probe, a screwdriver or a bolt cutter. It’s incredibly clever technology.

“It proves that the technology we’ve been working on works. We can do keyhole surgery on the wing.”

Surgical’s design engineers have developed a unique pathway into the engine that winds its way down like a snake and delivers an instrument that examines that part of the engine.

“We don’t make probes and screwdrivers. We provide the delivery mechanism. It’s keyhole surgery on jet engines,” said Mr Bowland.

Surgical is currently looking at other industrial areas where it can apply its keyhole surgery techniques. “We are looking at any area of industry where a human can’t go because they are prohibited by space or other issues,” said Mr Bowland.

“We’re looking at plumbing in walls where you can’t get a scope up a wall. We can get it there.

“The technology can be used in a nuclear reactor, in turbines in power stations, on North Sea oil rigs and down mines.”

He said there are huge opportunities for the technology and the group has assigned two design engineers with the task of looking at new industrial applications.

They include senior design engineer David Main, who is one of the team that developed Pretzel-Flex, a pretzel-shaped device that can reposition large organs, such as the liver, during keyhole surgery.

“David is taking his medical skills and applying them to an industrial setting,” said Mr Bowland.

One possible area is getting a camera into hard-to-get to places so images can be taken.

The company’s plan is to generate a revenue stream over the coming years from these bespoke devices.

At the moment the industrial side of Surgical makes up just £100,000 of the group’s £7.6m sales revenues so the group believes there is huge scope for development.

Rolls Royce will provide £210,000 of funding to develop the jet engine system.

This funding follows a feasibility study carried out in 2012.

Revenues from the project will be in addition to existing sales that come from Surgical’s patented articulating segment technology in jet engine inspection and maintenance.

Surgical’s Endoflex industrial product is being specially adapted to suit industrial applications.

The product will be based on core technology developed over the years in the surgical devices business.

The company said Endoflex Industrial can provide access into inaccessible or hazardous spaces and minimises the need to disassemble complicated equipment and systems.

Mr Bowland added: “I am delighted that we continue to develop this relationship with our key industrial partner.

“If the development project is successful, there is a good opportunity to roll out a number of these devices in 2014.

“We continue to seek opportunities where Surgical’s intellectual property can be adapted to provide industrial solutions for major international companies.”

Surgical reported an 85 per cent improvement in the second half of 2012, although a delay in US regulatory approval meant that 2012 revenues came in flat at £7.6m.

The firm said £1m of orders were delayed and will be clocked up in 2013 revenues.

“It means we’ve got a good start to 2013,” said Mr Bowland.

He said the company needs to look at processes and that is one of the reasons for the move to new state-of-the-art premises in Leeds.

Surgical has won a £5m grant from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund to develop a research and development facility and clinical training centre in Leeds.

When the site opens within the next two years it is expected to create over 300 jobs in the Leeds City region.

The two possible locations are Logic Leeds, a 100-acre site close to Junction 45 of the M1, and Leeds Valley Park, which is south-east of the city centre and bounded by the M1 and M621 motorways.

Analysts believe that Surgical will opt for the Logic Leeds site as it is within the Aire Valley Leeds Enterprise Zone.

The group aims to start work this summer and hopes to move in before 2015.

BARNETT TO LEAD SALES DRIVE IN US

Surgical Innovations has appointed a president of US sales and operations as it continues efforts to target the American market.

Rick Barnett’s role as president of US sales and operations is a newly created position.

Mr Barnett joined from Integrated Medical Systems Inc where he managed a division that provided on-site clinical support for minimally invasive procedures.

Surgical said an important focus for its strategy moving forward is to drive sales in the US.

Mr Barnett will manage the various US sales channels that Surgical has already established.

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