Robert Futch: Making It Possible To Deliver Lifesaving Blood and Vaccines Further Than Ever Before

February 26, 2022

Delta Development makes it possible to deliver lifesaving blood and vaccines further than ever before.

Tell us about yourself?

I had previously worked with a company called SunDanzer that made stationary solar powered refrigerators for vaccines. Thousands of these are deployed all over Africa and it was a great experience to be a part of such a big project and making a difference in people’s lives.

Our stakeholders, including the World Health Foundation and military medical groups, had asked us for many years for a better way to deliver those vaccines and other cold stored medicine. Eventually I started my own company with my co-workers in order to solve this problem.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

A lot of things went right for us. I was really lucky that I was able to attend the University of Arizona for my Masters in Systems Engineering at the same time as starting the business.

That turned out to be critical for making sure I was following all the best practices for designing a medical device, I just didn’t know at the time how important it would be. If I could go back a few years, I would just remind myself not to stress over the exams and focus on learning what I wanted to learn in order to be able to run a medical device manufacturing business.

What problem does your business solve?

Have you ever seen on TV when a delivery person rushes into a hospital with a heart ready for transplant and they are carrying the heart in a lunchbox full of ice? Turns out, that is not just TV magic. Hospitals today are still moving around sensitive medical products, including organs, in lunchboxes, camping coolers, or cardboard boxes.

That always surprises me when I see it. Remote military medical teams were doing the same thing with bags of blood. They need blood to treat people that have been injured and have lost too much blood. The only tools they had were these boxes of ice that may or may not be keeping their blood at the safe temperature that the FDA recommends.

Civilian medical teams also wanted to provide blood to injured people, for example, after a serious car accident. Typically someone who has lost a lot of blood may not survive the trip back to the hospital, especially in rural areas, so these ambulance teams want to provide blood on scene. Until now, ambulance teams didn’t have access to FDA standard technology that would allow them to provide this service.

With Delta’s new Autonomous Portable Refrigeration Unit (APRU), military medics can now carry their blood at a safe temperature for days at time, no matter how long the mission lasts. Civilian medics can now legally carry blood and other cold stored medical products in their ambulance. Hospitals also have a safer way to deliver organs. International Aid groups also have a much more reliable way to deliver vaccines to remote areas.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

The original inspiration came from a series of requests for quote (RFQs) that we saw on US government websites. A number of medical teams were looking for a portable refrigerator that was could be carried by one person and lasted more than a few hours.

We saw these requests go unfulfilled for years and finally thought to ourselves, “We can make one!.” We already had a lot of background in the government and medical standards that apply to these type of devices and our team already had a strong background in the science behind how refrigerators work.

It wasn’t a far leap to take the experience we had and apply it to a new portable device, but it did take a totally new approach to rise above the competitors who were using old fashioned methods of cooling and finally get that long battery life that everyone wanted.

What is your magic sauce?

Our magic sauce is 15x longer battery life than the nearest competitor. Our competitors use either passive or active cooling methods. Our device combines the two into a hybrid cooling system for extreme efficiency which is critical for battery applications.

Now our customers can travel through the desert for days without needing to recharge, and if they need to go further, they can recharge from their vehicle. No more running back to base for more ice.

Our device is also much more rugged and is qualified for use on helicopters. The APRU is designed to survive years of driving on bumpy, rural roads and keep your medical products safe no matter what the weather is. The APRU works in the freezing cold, the desert heat and in the rain.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Our goal is to get every ambulance in the world supplied with blood and refrigerated medicine. Usage of blood in mobile medical services has been trending higher, mostly with hacked together solutions. We can now offer a permanent solution for these teams.

In the US, Texas is leading the way in mobile blood services, so we are starting there while the policy in the rest of the country catches up. Europe also has a number of mobile blood services popping up. Canada, Israel, Australia and a few others have also started adopting these life-saving techniques and implementing tools like ours to make it happen.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

We started as a small team of four people with zero funding. We had to spend the first year doing side-jobs and working on getting grants to fund the work we really wanted to do. Once we got over that hurdle by landing an SBIR development grant with the US Air Force, we had to build a team to design our new portable medical refrigerator.

The biggest challenge though, was launching production. There are tons and tons of grants out there for developing new medical products or pharmaceuticals, but they rarely help your company go beyond this point and into production. It was up to us to scrounge together the tools, manufacturing space, and people we needed to start production.

If we didn’t do this, we may have had to sell the company we just worked so hard to build. Or worse, the company would have died even though we had a successful development of a new product.

Now our original Air Force customer is excited to see the completion of development and the delivery of a bunch of refrigerators, but if I could share one thing with the SBIR grant program, it’s that small companies like ours need support in that middle phase, otherwise many successful products will fade away before anyone gets to see them.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Right now we are distributing the APRU to military and civilian medical teams around the world. We have some APRUs out there helping people that are injured in accidents, some that are helping injured people in warzones, and we even have one that is with a medical team specifically for treating injured people on movie sets! If your team is looking to add to your mobile medical service, you can reach out to us on https://www.deltadevteam.com/contact

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