Biomedical engineer Mary Poniard is making sure 2000 new ventilators for Australian intensive care wards are ready to care for COVID-19 patients.
As the test engineer at Melbourne-based Grey Innovation, Mary Poniard works across disciplines including electrical and mechanical engineering. Each ventilator is made up of hundreds of components which are assembled by mechanical engineers. Mary tests the prototypes to make sure they function correctly. One piece of test equipment is a set of artificial lungs.
“We can change how they work to replicate sick or healthy, bigger or smaller people,” Mary explains.
The ventilators will almost double the country’s current supply – and design, testing, approvals and manufacture need to happen in just three months. Mary says this is almost unheard of for medical devices, which are usually developed over several years.
Mary grew up in Ireland and spent time in hospitals visiting a sick family member. “Machines fascinated me, and I was always asking nurses how they worked,” she says.
After studying biomedical engineering, Mary worked on projects including a device to catch blood clots during minimally invasive surgery. Keen to travel, she accepted a role with Fisher & Paykel in New Zealand. There, she designed humidifiers to help babies in incubators whose lungs weren’t working.
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“It really opens your eyes to see how much you need to put into the design to not harm vulnerable end users,” she says.