Sound economics: a silent micropump for medicine

Increasing demand for more portable medical devices led The Technology Partnership (TTP) to design small, noiseless, high-volume air pumps allowing patients to carry on with daily life rather than staying in bed in hospital.

The Cambridgeshire company is pushing the boundaries of technology. Their novel micropump combines a deep understanding of non-linear acoustic resonance, piezoelectric materials and fluid dynamics.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a technology that you’ve helped to create and develop, seeing it being manufactured in volume, and beyond that to seeing it being used in a product that affects people’s lives in a positive way,” says product manager James McCrone.

TTP is the winner of a 2012 Innovation Award from the Institute of Physics celebrating companies that make the most of applying physics in a commercial environment.

Assembling DiscPump

Assembling DiscPump


Sam Hyde: TTP creates new products and new technologies for our clients across the healthcare, communications, consumer and industrial space.

James McCrone: TTP had created this novel micropump [DiscPump] and we were looking for new applications of this, new products that we could take this into. Looking at the medical space, where there is a demand for more portable products, perhaps products that you can clip on your belt rather than having to wear over your shoulder, or products that enable you to get out of hospital and to carry on your daily life rather than staying in a bed in hospital.

We identified an American company that we took the technology to and very soon started work with to engineer DiscPump into a portable medical therapy device.

Laser cut components for DiscPump

Laser cut components for DiscPump

Stuart Hatfield: DiscPump is formed broadly of three main components. The valve is the one which requires the most assembly. It involves a stack of etched layers which are assembled and then aligned and then welded together. The second component is the actuator, so that’s the piezo and steel disc which provides the drive force for the pump. And then the third component is a simple moulded base.

The pump is then assembled by essentially gluing the valve into the base and then gluing the actuator onto a membrane and welding it onto the cavity.

Sam Hyde, CEO TTP - the technology partnership

Sam Hyde, CEO TTP – the technology partnership

Sam Hyde: Physics is a vital part of our business. We are pushing the boundaries of what technology can achieve and that requires a deep understanding of the limitations of physics but also what it can do, and it’s important that we understand that so that we can deploy it in developing new products.

James McCrone: You often see people with devices that they’ve developed, where they’ve made one or ten and they feel that they’ve done most of the work. Actually, they may have had most of the inspiration but most of the work is still left to do. It’s about converting from that one to ten level, to being able to produce the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands.

James McCrone, DiscPump product manager, TTP - the technology partnership

James McCrone, DiscPump product manager, TTP – the technology partnership

And that’s where I think TTP actually is quite unique because we have both the ability to have these creative ideas in the first place and to create genuinely new technology but also the ability to go through those later stages and turn it into a commercially realised, value generating product.

To see it coming off the production line is fantastic. At TPP, we’re a company full of scientists and engineers and I think most scientists and engineers are in it because they enjoy making things and seeing things happen, and I think there’s nothing more satisfying, really, than taking a technology that you’ve helped to create and develop and actually seeing it being manufactured in volume and beyond that to seeing it being used in a product that affects people’s lives in a positive way.

Sam Hyde: Traditionally, manufacturing of high-volume products would translate to the Far East. But with highly automated manufacturing, such as we use for DiscPump it’s possible to retain manufacturing in the UK and retain the skills and the value inside the UK market. And we’re very keen to manufacture our own ideas in the UK.

The UK has world class universities and world class graduates, particularly in physics, but across the range of scientists and being able to harness their skills in a commercial environment, resulting in products like DiscPump, is hugely valuable.

DiscPump production line

DiscPump production line

About the film

Filmed on location at:

  • TTP, Melbourne, Cambridgeshire, UK. September 2012.

Director: Martyn Bull
Producer: Thomas Delfs
Camera: Mark Whatmore
Editors: Liam Angell, Mike Willbourne
Cast: Dr Sam Hyde, Dr James McCrone, Dr Stuart Hatfield

Production company: insitu
Client: Institute of Physics

Camera: RED Epic, Canon 550D

Further reading