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CMU infant-sized thermal manikin

Baby, it’s cold – or maybe hot

Infant-sized thermal manikin joins CMU research lab at a special baby shower


​A tiny figure with a face only a researcher could love received a big welcome to the Central Michigan University family Monday.

CMU's Center for Merchandising and Design Technology threw an unconventional baby shower for its newest high-tech marvel: a "thermal manikin" the size and shape of a 10-month-old infant. It's only the second in the world from manufacturer Thermetrics and the only one in the United States.

Faculty and students will use it to test baby gear — bedding, clothing, car seats and more — for comfort and safety.

"Are we ready?" asked human environmental studies faculty member and CMDT Director Maureen MacGillivray before the big unveiling — and the announcement of the unisex manikin's name, Lumi, chosen in an online survey that drew nearly 400 votes.

McLaren Health Care obstetrician Dr. Robin O'Dell — a friend of CMDT lab coordinator Susanne Wroblewski — ceremonially "delivered" Lumi from the center's environmental research chamber in a blue blanket, followed by Wroblewski carrying a "Welcome Baby Lumi" banner.

Wroblewski and MacGillivray then outfitted the manikin in a maroon Action C cap and varsity-style jacket.

"We thought Lumi needed some CMU gear," Wroblewski said.


Speaking when baby can't

A child's baby doll may eat and wet, but Lumi can heat and sweat. Internal heating elements and temperature sensors maintain a lifelike body temperature, and a system pumps water through tiny pores in its carbon-epoxy "skin" to simulate perspiration and evaporation. Demineralized water for the sweating system is added and drained through a port in Lumi's forehead, and data cables attach where the eyes would be.

The manikin (alternate spelling of mannequin) can test the thermal properties of everything from baby clothes to car seats to bedding. Its electronics can gather precision information from 11 different body zones.

All of that data collection is important because, as Wroblewski notes, "it's hard for a baby to communicate."

Time to grow the family

Lumi has kin at CMU: a 5-foot-10-inch thermal manikin nicknamed Norm/Norma, depending on which of its two chest plates is affixed.

Norm/Norma arrived in 2009 through a National Science Foundation grant. Since then, it's been used to study and improve comfort and function of gear for military, medical, sports, and other occupational and recreational uses — including in paid studies for commercial customers such as Ford Motor Co., clothing maker Carhartt and medical technology firm Stryker.

"We are extremely excited and proud." — Maureen MacGillivray, human environmental studies faculty member

Collaboration with businesses is an important function of the center, MacGillivray said. Students gain experience with industry partners, and the work brings in revenue.

In fact, it was Norm/Norma bringing home the bacon that enabled the center to grow its family with the $120,000 Lumi — a price that includes software, training and maintenance for the highly sensitive instrument.

"We are not a 'revenue producing center,' as our lab is extremely expensive to maintain," MacGillivray said. "This is our first major purchase with monies earned, and we are extremely excited and proud."

A center without equal

Along with computer science faculty member Patrick Kinnicut, engineering and technology faculty member Terry Lerch, and human environmental studies Chair Tanya Domina, MacGillivrary helped create the CMDT in 2004 with a $350,000 NSF instrumentation grant that paid for a body scanner to help with the design of custom clothing.

In addition to the scanner and manikins, the center features the state's only environmental chamber that allows for testing in a climate-controlled environment.

"I can't make it rain in there, but I can make it really, really muggy," Wroblewski said.

The CMDT is interdisciplinary, with faculty in fashion merchandising and design, human environmental studies, engineering, and computer science. Students in those disciplines and others use it for course-related projects, independent studies and graduate work.

"Very few universities have these tools," Wroblewski said. "CMU wants students to have access to the latest and greatest."

Anticipating baby's first steps

MacGillivray, whose background and experience is in functional apparel design, expects that having Lumi in the mix will lead to new research opportunities and new insights — "I think we probably over-bundle babies."

She sees opportunities to study mattresses, blankets, protective thermal clothing, even diapers.

"The diaper industry is swinging back toward cotton diapers, which have very different properties from disposables," she said.

Also on the horizon, "maybe something with auto manufacturers and car seats," she said. "It could really change how infant car seats are made."

It wouldn't be the first time the center's equipment has made a difference in a real-life consumer product.

In 2017, four CMU students and Wroblewski used the lab to create and test an insulated bra for women who have had breast reconstruction.

It became the first product to emerge from the CMDT as its own business, Elemental.

"Norm has been very instrumental in that," Wroblewski said.

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