Biomedical Note

Work-study programme for BME students

One of the most distinct advantages of biomedical engineering (BME) students is the broad background knowledge they acquire. In addition to the general science and engineering syllabus, their curriculum includes medical ethics, regulatory affairs, etc. This allows them to get familiar with the medical device industry more quickly, no matter in sales, marketing, manufacturing, quality or regulatory affairs.
To enhance their competitiveness, they are encouraged to join different industrial attachments. Besides summer internships, they can take a sandwich year to participate in a one-year work/study programme before starting their final-year study. During the period, each student will be assigned an industrial supervisor who will provide guidance and help them explore the industry. Meanwhile, their university supervisor will regularly review their progress along with their industrial supervisor.

Take the Chinese University of Hong Kong as an example, in this academic year, we have a BME student who works as a quality trainee in a medical device manufacturer for one year from 2015. She is stationed in a Mainland manufacturing plant, initially as a sterilisation engineer responsible for cleanroom microbiology control and sterilisation validation. Under her supervisor's guidance, she became familiar with the related ISO, AAMI and GB/T standards. Her background knowledge gave her the ability and interest to go deep into these topics. Later on, she took part in process validation, developing the protocol, executing the validation, then concluding and writing up the report. Through this exercise, she becomes familiar with the manufacturing process. Furthermore, she acquires valuable international experience in working with US/European customers, who are the most advanced and stringent customers in the world!

The work/study programme is a win-win programme for students, the university and industry. The students get a chance to participate in industry before graduating so they can better prepare for their future career. For the university, there is more cohesion with industry, which enhances both teaching and research collaboration. Industry also benefits as they can look for the right candidates even before they graduate. Participating companies also discharge their social responsibility when they help students fulfil their roles in the medical device industry.

This article is contributed by Ir Prof Raymond K Y Tong of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. If you would like to know more about this topic, please contact the Biomedical Divisionís Hon Secretary, Ir Bryan So, at

Use NEC as basis for a standard international PPP contract?

Huge investment in the global asset base could be streamlined through the development of a standard international contract for public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

We have entered an unprecedented period of investment in global infrastructure, with global spend set to reach between US$3-US$6 trillion each year for the next two decades. A growing world population - expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050 - combined with urbanisation and a desire for better services will drive development of the global asset base, predominantly in the developing world.

Much of this work will see national governments working with development agencies and financial institutions to enlist private sector developers in so-called public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

Each will require a project-specific contract to be drawn up, specifying the obligations of each party, the payment mechanism and so on - a process which can take years to finalise and which adds to the time and cost of the project. In some countries where there is a clear pipeline of projects in a certain sector, something close to standard terms have been developed, sometimes based on the UK's experience with the private finance initiative (PFI). But this is often not the case, and the PFI was fraught with problems.

With so many PPP projects expected, it's time we developed a standard international contract that can be rolled out as a template for the vast majority of projects.

PPP projects are mostly for design, build, finance and operate (DBFO). The NEC, formerly known as the 'new engineering contract', has well-established and popular contracts for design and build and, separately, for providing a service. These have been used extensively in the UK and South Africa and are increasingly being used in Hong Kong and New Zealand too. These contracts can be combined for design, build and operate (DBO) and can be expanded to encompass the finance element too, making them the ideal template for a standardised, international contract for DBFO projects.

If the NEC is used as the basis of the DBFO project agreement, then NEC contracts could also be used for engineer, procure, and construct (EPC) projects and operations and maintenance (O&M) sub-contracts, and in turn for any sub-sub-contracts.

Why the NEC could work for an international DBFO:

1. Well-developed, standard processes for design and build and for providing a service.
2. Written in plain English and is designed for use internationally.
3. Flexibility: NEC contracts are not specific to any particular market sector or technical discipline; they allow a range of payment mechanisms and they are built in a modular fashion, which allows varied options to be chosen according to the particular contract.
4. Clear on risk allocation, critical in PPP contracts.
5. Encourages collaboration and change management. This starts with an obligation to "act as stated in this contract and in a spirit of trust and collaboration" and is reinforced through a simple but critical 'early warning' mechanism and clear processes for dealing with the time and cost of any risks occurring that the bidder was not required to allow for.

However, there are some key challenges to establishing the NEC as a standard DBFO contract:

- The PPP market's apparent reluctance to use a standard contract. Embedding an international NEC contract for DBFO projects will require collaboration between the NEC itself and organisations representing potential users including clients and their legal, technical and financial advisors in the PPP market.
- The false perception that NEC is "just a construction contract". NEC is much more than this: the NEC family includes robust contracts for providing services, which are endorsed by the British Institute for Facilities Management (BIFM).
- The need for NEC contracts to be actively and professionally managed. There is real value in properly using the NEC's in-built management processes but they are so well-developed that standard 'in the cloud' management software for all NEC contracts is available.

If we can address these challenges, then developing an international DBFO contract based on the NEC could bring a number of benefits:

1. Standard procedures: This will ensure efforts are focused on elements which are truly unique to each PPP project.
2. Clearer subcontracts: The ability of the private sector partner to use standard NEC contracts to pass on their responsibilities and liabilities to sub-contractors for design, construction and operation.
3. Reduced transaction costs: All involved will be able to focus on project-specific issues, saving time and money on defining what is meant by terms such as 'programme' and 'change', as is often the case with one-off PPP projects.
4. Reduced time to achieve financial close: With simpler, standard contracts the time to close could be significantly reduced. PPP deals can take years to finalise and a standard starting point would be to everyone's advantage.
5. Better management: Standard procedures will bring efficiencies to contract management in all parts of the value chain.

Using NECs as the basis for a standardised DBFO is not only possible; it should be seen as an opportunity to embed best practice in contract preparation and management in the international PPP market.

For more details on how the NEC can be developed into an international contract for DBFO projects please see "NEC for design build finance and operate (DBFO) contracts - taking best practice procurement into PPPs", Richard Patterson and Barry Trebes, ICE's Management, Procurement and Law, November 2015, or

About the author: Richard Patterson is Mott MacDonald's NEC and procurement specialist. This article was first published in Infrastructure Intelligence. Reprinted with permission.

The finance element can also be incorporated into DBFO contracts

Science in brief

Nano-coating makes coaxial cables lighter
Common coaxial cables could be made 50% lighter with a new nanotube-based outer conductor developed by scientists at Rice University in the US.

The Rice researchers have developed a coating that could replace the tin-coated copper braid that transmits the signal and shields the cable from electromagnetic interference. The metal braid is the heaviest component in modern coaxial data cables.

Replacing the outer conductor with the flexible, high-performance coating would benefit airplanes and spacecraft, in which the weight and strength of data-carrying cables are significant factors in performance.

Rice research scientist Francesca Mirri made three versions of the new cable by varying the carbon-nanotube thickness of the coating. She found that the thickest, about 90 microns, met military-grade standards for shielding and was also the most robust; it handled 10,000 bending cycles with no detrimental effect on cable performance.

Coaxial cables consist of four elements: a conductive copper core, an electrically insulating polymer sheath, an outer conductor and a polymer jacket. The Rice researchers replaced only the outer conductor by coating sheathed cores with a solution of carbon nanotubes in chlorosulphonic acid.

Compared with earlier attempts to use carbon nanotubes in cables, this method yields a more uniform conductor and has higher throughput. Replacing the braided metal conductor with the nanotube coating also eliminated 97% of the component's mass, Mirri said.

She said the lab is working on a method to scale up production, drawing on its experience in producing high-performance nanotube-based fibres.

Network science helps predict ligament failure
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering & Applied Science in US are using network science to gain new insights into 'sub-failure' ligament injuries, which can lead to pain and dysfunction despite the lack of obvious tears visible on scans.

The mechanisms that lead to these symptoms happen on a microscopic level and cannot be detected by existing clinical tools. In a recent study, the team put human ligament samples to the test, stretching them until they tear, while looking at these microscopic features. Using a polarised-light-based system that can reveal the angles of collagen fibres in the tissue, the researchers have shown how groups of neighbouring fibres changing their orientations in tandem prefigures the spots where failure eventually occurs. Much like how polarised sunglasses work by blocking all light aligned at a particular angle, this polarised light system can show the orientations of collagen fibres in the ligament by measuring how much light they allow through.

By using analysis techniques derived from network science, the researchers were able to show the degree to which concerted reorientation prefigured the spots where failure first occurred.

These insights could help identify regions of ligaments that are prone to tearing, and could eventually be incorporated into new diagnostic techniques or therapies.

New materials proposed for Li-ion batteries
A study by University of Eastern Finland (UEF) scientists has opened up new electricity storage applications through the use of novel materials in next-generation lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are a rapidly growing energy storage method due to their high energy density, especially in mobile applications such as personal electronics and electric cars. However, the materials currently used in Li-ion batteries are expensive, many of them, like lithium cobalt oxide (classified by the EU as a Critical Raw Material, or CRM), are difficult to handle and dispose of. Additionally, batteries using these materials have relatively short lifetimes.

One promising anode-cathode material pair identified by the UEF researchers is lithium titanate countered by lithium iron phosphate. The raw materials for these components are readily available. They are also safe to use and easy to dispose of or recycle. Most importantly, batteries manufactured using these materials have significantly longer cycle and calendar lifetimes compared to the current battery technology.

The main problem of these new materials is their low electric conductivity. The UEF scientists have proposed to solve this problem by producing nano-sized, high surface area crystalline materials, or by modifying the material composition with highly conductive dopants. In the laboratory, they have succeeded in doing both for lithium titanate (LTO) in a simple, one-step gas phase process.

According to the researchers, the most important applications lie in batteries featuring, for example, fast charging required for electric buses, or high power needed for hybrid and electric vehicles.

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