Meet Derek Smith from ADaPT

News - 29 Sep 2020

Derek Smith from Griffith University’s Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute (ADaPT) sat down with us to share his career journey and his predictions for the future of the biomedical space.

ADaPT continues to lead the way in the world of biomedical innovations and advancements, and brings together multi-disciplinary expertise across Griffith University in collaboration with leading industry partners to push boundaries in advanced custom design, rapid prototyping, and new materials in what has been dubbed the ‘next industrial revolution.’

Born in Scotland, Derek began his professional career as a mechanical designer working for many start-ups and med-tech businesses. After graduating from the University of Glasgow with subsequent post-grad qualifications from the University of Paisley, Derek found himself in a period where mass manufacturing companies had either gone out of business or relocated to countries with lower labour costs. As a result, significant government support generated a lot of start-up and innovation activity. It was through this that Derek was able to get involved with many great businesses in the early phase of their development.

Derek found his way to Australia in 2013, in a move that he said was purely a personal decision but has turned out to be the best professional choice for him as well. He began life in Australia as the leading mechanical designer at Cochlear in Brisbane, which proved to be an incredible tech success story. This opportunity eventually led Derek to the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, where he now works as the technical manager at ADaPT.

Derek said his days are spent either meeting with entrepreneurs and businesses, or deep in technical development.

“Being located within the Precinct is very important to ADaPT. It puts us near our colleagues at Griffith University, the Gold Coast University Hospital and Lumina, meaning we have complete access to world-leading innovators and entrepreneurs. This has supported us in research collaboration, ensuring our research remains relevant and has a direct impact on technical development.”

Derek believes the location and accessibility to a broad range of bright minds has been crucial in getting concepts off the ground and taking them through to development.

“Having unique access to people in such diverse specialisations, such as clinicians and surgeons, app developers, industrial designers and engineers of multiple disciplines, provides the right environment and expertise to get great ideas off the ground. The Precinct offers world-class technology opportunities both in biomedical and non-biomedical applications.”

“I firmly believe the medical research currently being undertaken within the Precinct has tremendous potential; for example, personalised surgery and surgical tools, spinal cord injury treatments and nerve bridges, and of course with the Institute of Glycomics here, we have a world beater in our Precinct. I believe we have a unique opportunity here on the Gold Coast to diversify the economy and create some highly skilled specialised jobs.”

ADaPT has recently taken several important steps to help in Australia’s fight against COVID-19. Throughout the early stages of the pandemic, ADaPT collaborated with the Queensland College of Art, School of Engineering and Built Environment to commence face shield manufacturing, providing 800 of those frames to health services. Working with students from the Griffith University’s Industrial Design program, ADaPT also produced concepts and products aimed at easing existing issues with equipment used to treat the most acute COVID-19 cases.

“Thankfully, the way in which the pandemic has affected Australia has been far less than in other countries, so the use of many of these ideas wasn’t required. However, the designs remain ready to go should a response be needed.”

The future of the biomedical space is exciting, and Derek believes ADaPT will remain at the forefront of the industry.

“I believe medical device and surgical design will move into the personalised and mass customisation space. The technology to create personalised dynamic models, or a digital twin, of specific individuals for analysing the effectiveness of surgical procedures already exists. The challenge now is to get this technology onto the market and start changing practice in targeted procedures. This will not only lead to better health outcomes for patients but also increase efficiency and reduce costs.”

Derek is excited about what ADaPT has in store over the next 12 months.

“We have a great facility here on the Gold Coast and we are continuing to push projects forward and develop a pipeline that will bear fruit over the coming years. What we learn in the next 12 months will be vital for helping to set up a conveyer belt of new technologies that can be leveraged from our ongoing research. Not only that, but we’re very optimistic about some exciting new aerospace and defence collaborations to accelerate our specialisations in those markets.”