A team of Midland engineers have helped a young girl seriously hurt in a road accident to come through a life-saving operation to mend a hole in her skull.

When surgeons at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital were looking for help with the intricate cranioplasty surgery to restore the little girl’s skull they ended up turning to the scientists and engineers at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry.

The centre brings together the likes of Rolls-Royce, Airbus and HP with the objective of bridging the gap between academia and industry but in this case the capacity for precision planning was used to save the girl, who can’t be identified.

Using a CT scanner, surgeons took precise digital measurements of the patient’s skull. This data was then sent to the MTC to be converted into a 3D model of the girl’s anatomy. Engineers at the MTC embarked on a rapid generation of a model of the damaged region of the skull using advanced three dimensional additive manufacturing equipment supplied by MTC member, HP.

The model produced by the MTC was used by Dr Frank Johnson, consultant anaplastologist at the Northern General Hospital, to generate a ceramic former which was used to shape a sheet of thin titanium to cover the hole. The whole process from initial despatch of the data from the hospital to the new titanium plate being put in place took less than a week.

Professor David Wimpenny, manufacturing technology manager at the MTC, said the technology used involved an unrivalled level of accuracy.

The surgery involved the precision replacement of a large piece of skull in a similar operation to that carried out in Birmingham on Taliban shooting victim Malala Yousafzai.

Prof Wimpenny said: “The extreme accuracy of the process eliminated the need to modify the plates in theatre. This meant a much shorter operation which was safer for the patient. In fact the operating time was less than one hour, considerably reducing the surgical trauma for the patient.”

Work is now underway at the MTC to use the next generation of additive manufacturing machines, which can print metal parts, for the direct production of complex implants, so offering even greater benefits, including design freedom, enabling patients to be treated more effectively and efficiently

“This is a fine example of how technology developed at the MTC for use in automotive and aerospace can be used for other purposes. Not only is this technology effective in medical terms, it dramatically reduces the cost of complex cranial surgery and compresses the time involved.” he added.

The Manufacturing Technology Centre, based on Ansty Park, Coventry, opened in 2011 following a £40 million cash injection from the West and East Midlands development agencies – one of the final successes of the now axed Advantage West Midlands.

As well as the likes of Aero Engine Controls, Sandvik and GKN from the industrial world, it works as a partnership with a host of local universities – Birmingham, Nottingham and Loughborough as well as TWI, the operating division of The Welding Institute.

The MTC aims to provide a competitive environment to bridge the gap between university-based research and the development of innovative manufacturing solutions, in line with the Government’s manufacturing strategy.