Since January 2012, Prof. Raldi Artono Koestoer has been lending his Grashof incubators free of charge to parents of premature born babies who can’t afford hospital fees, It all began in 1989 when he visited his eldest brother who is a pediatrician and had the opportunity to examine a broken incubator. At the time, incubators in Indonesia were mostly imported from USA, Germany, Japan and were very expensive. So the idea came that he would manufacture his own incubators locally in Indonesia and supply them to regional hospitals.
The Grashof incubator uses natural convection where the transfer of heat from a bulb lamplight as a heating element to the baby chamber is not generated by an external source like a blower, fan or suction device but only by density differences occuring due to temperature gradients. The density of air depend on its temperature, if the temperature rise the density decreased that means the air become lighter then move upward. Heating chamber connect to the outside air by several holes allowing fresh-air enter the heating chamber replace the hot air which moving upward to the baby’s cabin.
This type of natural circulation is not only more energy efficient but it also allows the baby to sleep easier. Most of the heat will accumulate inside the baby’s chamber before being released through outlet holes scattered in the upper part of the chamber in order to maintain a cabin temperature of between 33 – 35 degrees celcius, just slightly below the human body temperature. The theory behind natural convection was developed by German Scientist Franz Grashof in the 19th century, hence the name Grashof incubator used in honour of him.
The professor started his research on this topic in 1995. He wanted a simple design for his incubator for several reasons. A simple design will make it easier to clean and troubleshoot. He also wanted as much of the materials to be sourced locally in Indonesia in order to drive down the manufacturing and maintenance costs, while also ensuring spare parts can be sourced quickly and cheaply to keep as many incubators available for use.
Last but not least, safety is a concern. Although the incubators are all equipped with a cutoff thermostat, by only using two 25 watts light bulbs as the main heating source, it ensures that the temperature will not get too high. The highest temperature increased if the thermostat for some reason doesn’t work, can onlybe achieved to 38 dgC when ambient air at 29-30 dgC as a normal room daily temperature in Indonesia. So there will be no overheating eventhough the electronic device failed as frequently occurred in the hi-end product of hospital incubator.
The top part of the incubator is made of acrylic, while the bottom is made of wood coated with High Pressure Laminate to minimize the risk of burns or electrocution. But other materials with low thermal conductivity could also be used. Other point important of this incubator concerned to its low cost of production per unit which is only 275 USD. And mostly manufactured by the two vendors of the small scale industry. As demand from the lower society increased include for the twins preemies newborn, the team produce also three units of TWIN-INCUBATOR with the same system of natural convection.
After years of research, the first generation of Grashof incubators was born in 2001 nicknamed the wood incubator since it was mostly made of wood. In 2005 Prof. Koestoer started his small business of manufacturing his incubators with the view of selling them to regional hospitals across Indonesia, and in 2006 he sold his first incubator. However, realizing that many parents were still unable to afford NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) care, since January 2012 he made his incubators available for parents of premature born babies to borrow free of charge. An endeavor he coined ”sociotechnopreneurship”.
Initially, information about his Grashof incubators was only available on his blog http://koestoer.wordpress. com written mostly in Indonesian. Then, from word of mouth and traffic on their facebook page he managed to leverage that into several appearance on national tv. These days he spends a lot of his time replying to concerned parents through his SMS Centre. Despite all that, plus his teaching duties at University Indonesia, Prof. Koestoer also takes an active role in monitoring the babies’ progress. He maintains contact with the parents every 3 days via text messages during the 1-2 months it normally takes to get the babies to normal weight. He’s also keen in improving his designs by taking suggestions from parents that have used the incubators.
The latest model weighs only 13 kg making it more portable than before. His latest idea is to incorporate phototherapy to treat hyper-bilirubinemia which is known as a jaundice baby.
It’s not all smooth sailing in his social endeavors, however. To date, 3 incubators have been lost from parents failing to return them with Prof. Koestoer being unable to track them down. The cost is something that Prof. Koestoer considered part of the risk of providing this vital service for free to those most in need. The bigger concern is that those 3 incubators could have helped save even more young lives.
The Grashof incubators are not under any kind of patent, information on how to build your own Grashof Incubator is available for anyone in Indonesia wishing to follow his design. As long as it is for non commercial purposes and inline with the spirit of social entrepreneurship. However, utilization outside Indonesia can be afforded only after consultation with the thermal group of University of Indonesia.
Today around 110 units are operational spread across 25 cities with the aim to eventually reach all 34 provinces of Indonesia (approx. 300 cities). To date (data of November 2015) over 600 to 700 (six to seven hundreds) babies have been saved with this vital service providing the hope that many more newborn preemie of poor people in the remote region will be saved in the future.
Future planning of expanding the utilization this home-incubator, it will be taken into account to exporting the system to help other developing countries around equator, which have the same tropical climate as Indonesia, such as African or south American countries.