iMed Tech is a company that specializes in medical design, engineering and, technology. Their aim as a company is to fill the gaps of growing prosthetic demand in South Africa and to use technology that enables the production of high quality products, that meet customer needs at impressive prices. IT News Africa spoke with iMed Tech’s managing director and founder, Nneile Nkholise, on the origins of the company and asked for her thoughts on the role of tech in an African landscape.
What inspired you to start iMed Tech?
iMed Tech was inspired by an “aha” moment during my Masters research on the applications of Additive manufacturing in manufacturing facial prosthesis. I had gone to one hospital in Bloemfontein to do practical work with our research team and at that moment, when I was in the hospital and seeing a lot of patients, I felt I wanted to create more than a clinical trial or just a research study; I needed to build a business that will impact more than one person but a large number of people.
What kinds of challenges did you face along the way?
The transition from being a full technical person to being business minded was the biggest challenge that I faced, because I ended up making lots of mistakes along the way. However, I am blessed that I had companies such as SAB Foundation, Innovation Hub and IDF Group to support me along the way.
Are you or your company involved in any social impact initiatives or programs?
Our business was built around making social impact. Making social impact to iMed Tech is not something sidelined; it is part of our company’s DNA, especially for the products that we are creating.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between tech and healthcare in Africa right now?
Tech will be the catalyst that will spearhead the advancement of healthcare in Africa. I believe that technology will allow us to respond rapidly to healthcare challenges in Africa and will allow us to offer quality solutions for patient well-being.
In brief, please describe the process involved in creating custom-made medical solutions and/or prosthesis.
Some of the different technologies used are Prosthesis Development, 3D CAD Technology, and Additive Manufacturing.
Computed tomography (CT) scanned digital imaging data sets are acquired of the patient and processed in specialized medical imaging software (Mimics), to create 3D digital geometries in stereolithography (STL) file format. A number of manipulations and pixel-by-pixel editing steps are applied to isolate the regions Of interest (head) which are then imported into the CAD software program Geomagic Freeform. The design software is used to isolate healthy soft tissues (in this case the ear) to design a 3D digital model of the soft tissue.
Additive manufacturing technologies are then applied to produce a prototype which is fitted on the patient to determine the appropriate and accurate fit. A mold is then produced from the prototype geometry’ and the final silicone prosthesis created and painted to blend in with the surrounding skin color and texture. This process produces a custom-made product.
This technology makes product design more efficient by automating processes that were once manual, such as conventional prosthetic production techniques. With three-dimensional (3D) computer-aided design (CAD), the designers can also do solid geometric modeling, creating 3D representations of their products.
CAD software allows the designer explore concept design ideas, create product designs, carry out simulations and analyses, and perform engineering calculations. CAD tools assist you with the experimentation. exploration and iteration needed to make the most of your design’s potential. Better products produced more efficiently and at less cost so that you get your products to market faster.
Additive manufacturing is a fast-growing 3d printing technology which is revolutionizing the way products are produced in modern society, the technology presents powerful breakthrough in reducing the gap, the need and the problem facing prosthesis and implant manufacturing in South Africa and Africa at large. The principle behind the technology is that CAD and computer-aided manufacture (CAM) provide an opportunity to produce 3D objects directly from 3D scan data, using layer-by-layer technique. The technology gives an advantage to produce products at a shorter time and products of high standards.
Regarding artificial intelligence (AI), do you think Africa is ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution?
Yes, we are ready – as a company we are going to be launching a product called 3DIMO (3-Dimensional Imaging and Modelling for Operations) the online cloud platform will be an AI infused product that will help Surgeons be able to create 3D virtual and 3D printed surgical planning models. That work is a perfect example that Africa is ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution, and the response received from the product including our reach has given us a true case study result that Africa is welcoming the shift in the way of work brought by 4th IR technologies.