Innovation or "Craft" Labs?


Blog post by SimGHOSTS MEA Officer Valen Anderson, Sidra Medical and Research Center, Doha Qatar

One of my favorite aspects of simulation is the infinite potential for innovation. My first Sim Tech position was at the Grainger Center for Simulation and Innovation (Northshore University HealthSystems, Evanston Hospital IL). One room in the basement level of our Center was titled the “Craft Lab” (often nicknamed the “Crap Lab” because of the messy and chaotic state it was in). The Craft Lab was there for us to engineer new devices, make skins and molds for task-trainers, and to work on projects specifically tailored to simulation scenarios or courses.

I love exercising my creative energy, especially with a resourceful team. I was fortunate enough to work with 2 other Techs on our sim team (shout out to Kyle Petty and Steve Houg!) who made visits to the Craft Lab fairly routine. Our time spent down in the Craft Lab would blossom and evolve into fun and useful projects.  We were down there at least one day a week making Smooth-On© silicon suture pads, chest skins, neck skins (which saved the Center a lot of money in replacement parts and helped us justify the Craft Lab’s existence). Around once a month we worked on specific projects like a stapled C-section skin for our OB scenarios (so participants could actually examine the skin for puss, redness, etc) or helpful tools like a mold to hold bovine-airways for cric procedural courses.


Kyle was a creative genius and pioneered larger projects based on our educational-needs – his first idea and mission was to create a facial laceration model for surgical and ER residents to practice and use for skills assessment. We started off by making a mold of my face (it wasn’t a great idea to begin with)… and wised up to use “Mr. Hurt Head’s” (Laerdal©) face as a model. It took a few tries to perfect the skin consistency and feel, but that’s all part of the process. We also created a neonatal chest tube trainer (this was before commercial models were available) using ETT stylets for ribs, a hollow rubber baby doll with its side cut out, and various silicon layers for skin/pleura/etc.


Some of my fondest memories working at NorthShore were listening to Ratatat, pouring molds and brainstorming projects in the Craft Lab with my fellow techies.

It makes me very happy and proud to see how far these innovation labs have come. Chad Jackson is an excellent example; his Simulation Center at the American College of Chest Physicians has 2 incredible Innovation Labs (wet and dry) where he creates a massive variety of devices, trainers, and more. I was fortunate to attend his 3D printing workshop at SimGHOSTS MEA this past year. I  highly recommend you check him out!

If you don’t have space for a Craft Lab, I would suggest allocating a counter-top surface somewhere and ordering some silicon-samples (we used Smooth-On©, but there are likely other companies out there) to get started. It is cost-effective, productive and fun!