5 Mistakes to Avoid - Medical Equipment Support Structures

Visit any hospital, doctor’s office, or outpatient clinic and you’ll see all types of medical equipment suspended overhead. 

The systems in plain view do amazing things ranging from detecting the smallest anomaly on an x-ray to providing a surgeon the lighting needed to perform a delicate operation.  What most of us never see are the support structures securing the equipment overhead. We’ve been designing and installing support structures for medical equipment for many years, and this experience means we have first-hand knowledge of how (and why) things go wrong.  This post offers some friendly advice on critical mistakes to avoid during the design and installation phases of medical supports. 

Inefficient Design Concepts
One of the most common mistakes we see is an over-reliance on fabricated, red iron supports. We aren’t saying red iron supports are always bad.  In fact, for projects with heavier load requirements, we use them too.  The key here is a design that pairs red iron with Unistrut channel and fittings, or heavier gauge material like the Hilti MI system.

The problem with designs based exclusively on fabricated structural steel is ease of modification. Medical equipment support structures frequently require adjustments during installation.  Even small system tweaks to work around conduit, pipes, or HVAC duct work present in locations other than the areas called out in the original drawings–or minor variances in deck height–MAY require welding and another union trade to get involved.  In each of these cases, an inefficient design concept can increase (and potentially double) your labor costs.

Field welding in a medical setting doesn’t just drive up labor costs.  It also creates dust and releases potentially harmful gases into the air. Try telling the nurse manager you want to weld next to an active operating room—this never goes well.

Improper Material Specification
Having your system designed by Unistrut Service Company eliminates many of the potential problems mentioned above because we have a thorough understanding of medical applications.  We also understand how to select the proper materials during system design.  Here’s our best advice on things to avoid when choosing materials:

  • Specification of non-stock or more expensive Unistrut channel and fittings
  • Use of materials that are too heavy for the application
  • Materials that are too light for a heavy-duty application (e.g., you may need to consider Hilti’s MI system for heavy boom applications)
  • Selecting the wrong finish—because these are interior applications, Perma-Green or Electro Galvanized is the most efficient (and cost-effective) choice

Failure to Understand Deflection and Rotation Criteria
When folks don’t understand OEM requirements for support structures, trouble isn’t far behind.  For example, some medical support structures can have moment loads over 12,000 ft. lbs.  Remember, the equipment manufacturers have strict criteria for deflection and rotation.  Although you’ll see some variance between different manufacturers, typical industry standards include:

  • Lights and booms – .2 degrees of plate rotation (under load)
  • Radiology, Catheterization Equipment – 1/16” deflection

Excessive deflection WILL cause poor images. In extreme cases, you may be dealing with a finished room (paint, flooring, ceiling, etc.) and the equipment vendor may not be able to calibrate equipment.  Failing to meet the manufacturer’s specifications could end up forcing you to gut the ceiling and rework the structure.

Excessive plate rotation can cause “boom drift” where the equipment does not stay where the doctor or nurse has placed it.  Boom drift can also cause internal clutches and brakes to fail—and when this happens, the manufacturer won’t honor their warranty because the support structure is not to spec.

Protecting the equipment is an important design goal, but you need to think about people too.  When staff and patients are positioned beneath systems that can easily weigh well in excess of 1,000 pounds (the new Flexmove system from Philips weighs 4,000 lbs), you begin to understand why support structure design is so important.  In each of the scenarios just described, the contractor can be held responsible for damages. The moral here is simple—make sure you understand the required deflection and rotation criteria.

Improper Anchoring
The best-designed strut support system is of no value when improperly anchored.  Many booms require a “hybrid” adhesive system due to excessive dynamic loading.  Because they are not intended for dynamic loading applications, mechanical anchors can “rock” in the drilled hole, causing movement.  This motion doesn’t just cause poor equipment performance—it can yield catastrophic results.

Missing the Big Picture
Our last discussion point involves vision—and thinking with an eye towards the future.  The owner could change equipment manufacturers after the drawings are approved but before the installation starts.  Or, the owner might decide to change manufacturers a few years down the road. It’s important to think about ways to make the system design more “universal” to accommodate these types of changes.  Planning ahead during the design phase could save your client thousands of dollars later.

Overhead medical support structures may look rather simple, but a lack of vision and planning can yield a system that does not meet your client’s future needs.  On the other hand, if you take the time to design a system that is easily modified downstream, your client will sing your praises when the time comes to make an equipment change.

Parting Thoughts
We hope this post has offered some valuable pointers on system design.  Unistrut Service Company is an industry leader in the medical equipment support field, and we have years of experience designing and installing systems for hospitals, out-patient clinics, and medical facilities nationwide.  Although we won’t go so far as to say it would be a mistake not to have us quote your next system design and install, we would strongly encourage you to consider us for your next project.  And if you have competent installers on staff, consider having us design your system and provide the materials for the build….you’ll be glad you did.  To learn more about medical supports or to discuss an upcoming project, contact Unistrut Service Company for further assistance.