June 1, 2020
To be an inventor is to belong to a rather exclusive club.
This, however, is a society where inquisitiveness and originality carry far greater currency than any subscription fee.
Andrew Turner has been an affiliate for years. Ever since he was a young boy, his mind has whirred with curiosity.
From deconstructing toys to fashioning a pulley system with string on his bedroom curtains, he was motivated by a desire to understand the very workings of the environment around him.
“I’ve always been inquisitive,” he says.
“Every invention has got people at its heart and even when I was young, I knew my Nanna struggled for mobility when she was trying to get in and out of the bath, so I was thinking about how I could make it better for her.
“There were times too when my parents were struggling with something and I’d try and come up with solutions.
“It’s unbelievable sometimes where my ideas come from,” continues Andrew.
“I might see a new kind of door hinge and think to myself, ‘I’ll have a look at that later to see how it works because it might help me in the future’.
“I try to build up a wealth of information I can tap into when needed.”
Andrew’s entry into the inventors’ club, however, wasn’t immediate.
Before he embarked upon a career that has produced numerous next generation developments across healthcare and the wider manufacturing and utilities sectors, he worked in a factory.
Beginning at Newton Aycliffe car parts maker Gestamp Tallent, Andrew took on an electrical and mechanical engineering apprenticeship with the firm.
He later became a senior manufacturing engineer, which led to significant prototype and development work that provided a perfect insight into taking ideas from blueprint to production.
That experience has today translated itself into Andrew Turner Inventions and a raft of patented and pending projects, many of which has initially been developed in his garden shed.
Andrew has worked with clients such as Northumbrian Water on projects including the low-cost semi-submersible Torpedo device, which maps underground wastewater pipework positions.
Technology giant Microsoft is now directly assisting with Andrew’s idea to hunt out potential blockages and areas that need attention.
He is also developing a smart down pipe – which reduces flooding risk by remotely managing homes’ reserves while promoting rainwater harvesting – and supporting one of Northumbrian Water’s strategic partners by designing a pipe laying trailer that allows operatives to lay and cut coiled mains water pipework more safely.
Elsewhere, the company’s portfolio includes the Abidot, which employs lasers to guide welders when fashioning parts together.
But it’s not just utilities and heavy industry where Andrew – who recently worked with a large UK kitchen maker to increase its productivity and improve quality – has carved a niche.
He also heads the multi award-winning Quality Hospital Solutions, which, again, carries a host of patented innovations.
A joint venture alongside City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust and a design and manufacture company, it is also supported by
the Academic Health and Science Network and industry-leading technology partners.
A funnel for innovation, it works closely with industry professionals to understand the sector’s needs, with its business model feeding revenue back into the NHS.
Previous creations include a nebuliser mask regulator to ensure correct oxygen flow, and the Beverage Trolley, a catering unit that guarantees patients receive hot drinks safely and at a suitable temperature.
All have made perceptibly positive and cost- effective differences to the provision of healthcare and, in the process, strengthened Quality Hospital Solutions’ reputation.
That status, however, is primed to increase again after the company, based at Sedgefield innovation hothouse NETPark, launched SamplePod.
The revolutionary venture could, says Andrew, save the NHS as much as £250 million every year by reducing internal process costs and re-working, triggering in the process a major carbon footprint reduction.
Traditionally, pathology specimens are placed into several single-use plastic bags – and marked up with equally unrecyclable paperwork – before being sent to laboratories.
Not only wasting hundreds of tonnes of plastic nationally each year, and costing unnecessary extra labour, Andrew says the process is further afflicted by transit damage and product time to process yield.
With SamplePod, however, he says such inefficiencies are removed, with the device’s reusable specimen collection pallet capable of holding the full spectrum of sample tubes and containers.
Furthermore, Andrew has partnered with PragmatIC, itself a fellow NETPark firm,
to introduce track and trace technology to SamplePod’s pallets.
Using ultra-low-radio frequency identification, every sample receives a unique digital identity, in addition to the current barcode, which allows real- time monitoring of a test’s journey, from its initial derivation to examination.
Set for trial with a large regional pathology laboratory, which could see SamplePod used in an initial 1600 GP surgeries before being rolled out nationally, the apparatus has also attracted interest from organisations that include a US healthcare company.
“A hospital can get rid of five tonnes of plastic from one pathology laboratory alone every year,” he says.
“When you have people sealing up bags, they have to be opened at the other end and discarded through strict medical waste guidelines; that is extremely expensive and wasteful.
“SamplePod also keeps tests upright, whereas at present they can move around and be damaged, and, crucially, it makes everything live.
“If you don’t process samples in a certain time, they become unreliable and have to be taken again.
“But, if you know a sample’s time is running out, thanks to the tracking technology, it can be prioritised automatically.”
With such medical and economic potential, perhaps it was inevitable the noises made by Andrew’s invention would filter into the corridors of political power.
When Boris Johnson’s cabinet decamped to Sunderland on January 31 to mark Britain’s EU divorce, the Prime Minister was able to gain first- hand insight into SamplePod.
Andrew says: “Roger O’Brien, the director of the University of Sunderland’s Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice, invited a few companies he thought were related to the Government’s sustainability goals.
“I talked Boris through the invention, and he was genuinely interested.
“I even shared a joke with him,” reveals Andrew.
“I’d printed out a picture of a red double decker bus and written on the side that I’m going to save the NHS £250 million a year with this invention.”
The visit also allowed Andrew – who met cabinet ministers before they sat at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland – to push his desire for greater awareness of innovation across the North East’s health, energy and water industries.
“I want there to be a louder voice about what we’re doing in the House of Commons,” he says.
“We can use innovation and skills from one industry into others. If we start to understand what’s going on overall, we can become more effective.
“One senior minister told me they get lots of ideas, but that many don’t get to the right places. “If we had a system to funnel the best ones from
the region and start sharing knowledge across multiple sectors, that would put us in a great position.
“On one particular project, the water industry visited the NHS and vice versa – the outcome was excellent.”
Andrew’s desire for such a support mechanism stems from his own journey.
Quality Hospital Solutions is galvanised by investment from Bill Scott, chief executive at Teesside’s Wilton Engineering, and David Frame, boss at Sunderland technology company Asset55.
“Bill and David have proven success in growing businesses,” says Andrew.
“I speak to them frequently and they bring the discipline and structure needed to support the business.”
More importantly, Andrew has full commitment, vision and drive from South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Ken Bremner and its HR director Kath Griffin.
“They shared the vision to set such a company up,” says Andrew, “and continue to support the running of the venture.
“You need people like Ken and Kath supporting you at the top level.”
Furthermore, Northumbrian Water chief information officer Nigel Watson – who praises Andrew’s “great ability to solve seemingly intractable problems with fresh thinking” – and head of innovation Angela MacOscar, also recognise his ability.
“I have a great network of people around me; you cannot do this alone,” adds Andrew.
“Nigel and Angela are influencing huge changes in the water industry, and it’s great to work closely with them, bringing more innovation to real industry problems.
“All of the staff are great to work with too.”
Andrew concludes: “What I’m doing gives me complete job satisfaction – I sometimes forget it is work!
“One day, I’ll be walking around and be able to see the impact of what I’ve done.
“I wouldn’t necessarily have ever gotten that chance working in a factory, but I am lucky to have served a strong apprenticeship in one.”