Digital twin improves helicopter rescue

Using CAD software, Australian helicopter modification specialist HeliMods integrates its innovative push-button stretcher-loading technology into a variety of aircraft. Digital technologies are crucial to increasing global market reach, the company’s founder says.

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“3D CAD was one of the early investments,” Will Shrapnel says. “It was important for me to design and model in an environment that could let me transfer those ideas into an aircraft and also scale them.” The founder and Managing Director of HeliMods also says that he was able to do more work with fewer people. “We can do a lot of work with a small team because of the technology we drive.”


Based in the town of Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Shrapnel’s company enables its customers to perform a wide range of special missions – including emergency medical retrieval, search and rescue, firefighting, and aerial policing. Its customers can be found not only in Australia but also in North America, Europe, and the rainforest of Borneo.

Loading patients made fast and easy

It’s the centerpiece of HeliMods’ developments and the first innovation of its kind:  the company’s new push-button stretcher-loading technology. “This had never been done before in any aircraft,” Shrapnel says. The Powered Aero Loader (PAL) system is a fully automated stretcher system that takes just the push of a button to load a patient into a rescue helicopter.


The stretcher can hold up to 318 kg, loading patients into a helicopter is much quicker, and they get the advanced care they need faster than ever before – not least because there’s no need to move equipment on and off the structure when loading the patient into the helicopter.


The PAL system can also drastically decrease paramedics’ reliance on manual lifting,  which reduces the risk of fatigue and repetitive strain injuries. 

Managing the entire digital environment

“We use a range of Siemens technologies,” Shrapnel says. “We use NX for CAD and engineering and we use Teamcenter for product lifecycle management. These technologies help us manage our whole digital environment. They enable us to understand all our digital processes, beginning with the initial requirements to what we ultimately integrate into the aircraft to provide for special missions. We use a lot of simulation and a lot of heavy technology to create this solution.”

CAD software supersedes tests in the real world

Utilizing the CAD software NX, HeliMods was able to create a digital twin of both their PAL system and the various helicopters into which they hoped to integrate their system. These three-dimensional digital twins are completely customizable and allow for each element of the technology to be isolated and adjusted to the needs of each customer, depending on their helicopter model. This eliminates the process of manufacturing for every model and also allows testing to find out how the components will withstand the challenging environments faced by helicopter emergency medical services.

PLM software for optimized lifecycles

HeliMods uses Teamcenter for product lifecycle management. The system connects people and processes with a digital innovation thread, which ensures that the entire lifecycle of a product from the early designs clear to aircraft integration can be monitored and adjusted per company and aircraft requirements.


Booster detonation for the PAL system came from Ornge, a non-profit organization that provides air ambulances and medical transport of patients across Ontario, Canada. They undertook a global search to improve patient care, and they found HeliMods. 

It’s probably the single greatest improvement that we’ve made to patient care and employee satisfaction.
Justin Pyke, Director of Paramedics, Ornge

“It’s probably the single greatest improvement that we’ve made to patient care and employee satisfaction,” says Justin Pyke, Director of Paramedics at Ornge. “We’re now able to load hot with the rotors running and get off the scene faster. And we receive so much positive feedback from the crews about the major impact it’s had on the work they do every day and on their crews.”

Technology that makes job much easier

The innovation from Queensland also benefits patients in their home state: The PAL system was integrated into the RACQ LifeFlight helicopters. “The technology makes our job much easier,” says Shaun Gillot, LifeFlight Australia crew member. “We can offload our equipment faster, get our patients quicker, load them into the aircraft, and then get them to the advanced care they need much faster.”

Digitalization for scale and growth

All of these benefits for patients and helicopter crews wouldn’t have been possible without digitalization. For HeliMods, it also was an economic success factor. Shrapnel’s advice for other decision-makers in the industry is definitely to “Invest heavily in new and emerging digital technologies. You’re not always going to get it right, but when you do get it right, your access to scale and growth is certainly significant. And if you want to play in the global market space, that’s absolutely what you have to do.”

The more we invest in our digital technologies, the more reach we have in the market and the more we can do in the market.
Will Shrapnel, founder and Managing Director, HeliMods

He’s convinced that “The digitalization journey ahead of us is an amazing one.” And he adds, “Over the last few years the growth of our company has largely been in technology. In fact, the more we invest in our digital technologies, the more reach we have in the market and the more we can do in the market.”

December 2019

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