• En | Fr
  • Welcome
  • About
  • Awards
  • Apply
  • News
  • Support Us
  • Contact Us

Brent King

Location: Calgary, AB

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Medical Equipment

Year: 2009


SPIDER Limb Positioner -- allows a surgeon to position a patient's limb for the optimum operating position. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Calgary Innovator Gives Surgeons a Helping Hand

Limb Positioner for Joint Surgeries Wins Accolades

Calgary, AB (August 27, 2009) - Calgary biomed engineer Brent King is to win a $10,000 Manning Innovation Award for inventing a unique device to accurately and securely position a surgical patient's limb.

The SPIDER Limb Positioner is excellent for specialized procedures such as rotator cuff repairs or wrist arthroscopy. Not only does the SPIDER improve the surgeon's ability to do delicate work, it reduces costs in the operating room. The surgeon can reposition the limb in seconds simply by stepping on a foot pedal. Staff who would otherwise need to hold the limb during the surgery are free to perform other tasks.

The SPIDER has become so popular with surgeons that many refuse to work without one. Dr. Cyril Frank is a professor and surgeon with the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Medicine. He notes that the SPIDER is "an indispensable positioning tool used around the world by thousands of surgeons on hundreds of thousands of patients."

Boston, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Clinique Générale of Annecy, France and all Calgary's hospitals are among the many institutions that use the SPIDER.

King is Vice President of Operations, Co-Owner, and an engineer with TENET Medical Engineering, Inc., the Calgary, Alberta company that designs, assembles and packages the SPIDER. King developed the technology after joining TENET in 1997. The company is now worth about $8 million, with over $9.8 million in revenue for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

The positioner is a pneumatic-hydraulic device powered by a compressed air supply. Specialized attachments make the SPIDER suitable for use in particular surgeries. Although the positioner already attaches to most surgical tables, King continues to work on expanding the technology for new uses.

UK-based Smith and Nephew Plc. distributes the SPIDER Limb Positioner in over 50 countries around the world. To date, over 2100 units have been sold.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year the Foundation will award $145,000 to leading Canadian innovators plus $20,000 to Young Canadians chosen at the 2009 Canada-Wide Science Fair.

The Foundation was established in 1980 to promote and support Canadian innovators. This Innovation Award has been sponsored by Katch Kan™ Ltd. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented over $4 million in prize money. The 2009 awards will be presented at an awards gala on Friday, September 18 in Vancouver, BC.

A Media Backgrounder about the innovator and his work is now available on the Foundation's website, with video available after September 18, 2009: www.manningawards.ca

For more information on the Foundation, contact Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director: 403-645-8288 or bruce.fenwick@encana.com

For more information about the SPIDER limb positioner and to view surgical videos, visit www.TENETmedical.com/ or contact Brent King: 403-571-0750 (office), 403-561-1558 (cell) or bking@TENETmedical.com

Media Backgrounder

$10,000 Manning Innovation Award

Sponsored by Katch Kan™ Ltd.

Mr. Brent King

The SPIDER Limb Positioner


  • Brent King is a biomedical engineer and inventor of the SPIDER Limb Positioner, used to hold a patient's limb steady during surgery.
  • King is Co-Owner and Vice President of Operations of TENET Medical Engineering, Inc.


  • The SPIDER Limb Positioner is a pneumatic-hydraulic device that accurately and securely positions a surgical patient's limb.
  • Accessories make the SPIDER suitable for use in various hip, knee, ankle, wrist, elbow or shoulder surgeries.


  • The SPIDER allows a surgeon to reposition a patient's limb quickly and with ease so that surgeries are faster and less cumbersome. The device also frees up the hands of highly trained staff who would otherwise have to hold the patient's limb for the duration of the surgery.


  • TENET Medical Engineering, Inc. designs, assembles and packages the SPIDER at its headquarters and manufacturing facility in Calgary, Alberta.
  • UK-based medical supply company Smith and Nephew Endoscopy distributes the SPIDER on every continent, reaching over 50 countries.
  • Boston, Massachusetts General Hospital, New York, New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, the Clinique Générale of Annecy, France and all Calgary hospitals are among the many institutions that use the device.


  • King conceptualized and developed the SPIDER after joining TENET's staff of two in 1997. TENET began to sell the product in 1999.
  • In 2009, sales of the SPIDER and related products were $5.5 million Can.


The SPIDER Limb Positioner is a gadget that makes surgeons' dreams come true.

Keeping a patient's limb still and in the right position during surgery is a tedious task, but the SPIDER never complains. Importantly, the SPIDER frees up the hands of highly paid staff for the valuable work they are trained to do. It also improves the surgeon's ability to accurately perform minimally invasive procedures, such as arthroscopy, which require precise and delicate work.

Like a human arm, the SPIDER has a double ball-and-socket "shoulder joint," a hinge-joint "elbow" and a ball-and-socket "wrist." The device is connected to the hospital's compressed air supply, the same source of potential energy used to run other pneumatic tools in the operating room.

To re-position the SPIDER, the surgeon simply steps on a foot pedal, cutting off the air supply so that the SPIDER's "arms" can be moved around. When the foot pedal is released, a steady pressure source keeps the SPIDER reliably locked in position. The device can hold almost 23 kilograms (50 pounds) when fully extended. There is no danger of the pneumatic-hydraulic device failing in the event of a power outage since it does not require electricity.

Because all surfaces in the surgical suite must be completely clean, the SPIDER also comes with a kit of custom made consumables, such as sterile covers and drapes.

Manning Innovation Award winner Brent King says that the SPIDER, like most TENET Medical Engineering products, grew out of surgeons' ideas about what they really needed. King invented and developed the SPIDER after joining TENET in 1997, thus turning wishes into reality.

For example, different surgeons may prefer to work from different angles. The SPIDER's range of motion means that various surgeons can make use of the same piece of equipment.

In addition, while other limb positioners have limited flexibility and uses, the SPIDER's accessories make it uniquely able to perform in various hip, knee, ankle, wrist, elbow or shoulder surgeries. Like a multi-head screwdriver, one specialized SPIDER "hand" can be easily replaced with another.

Surgeons like the device so much that many will schedule surgeries for when a SPIDER unit is available, notes King.

Dr. Jon Warner, an orthopaedic surgeon with Harvard Medical School, says that the level of innovation in the SPIDER is quite unique. Says Warner, "when international visitors come to my academic centre, the single item that they notice most and want the most for their own practice is the SPIDER arm positioning device."

King adds that the SPIDER is built with the most robust mechanisms possible. "We pride ourselves in making it simple and making it bullet proof," he says. After about five years of heavy use, when a SPIDER unit is ready for retirement, TENET takes it back, strips it down and rebuilds it in near-new condition, ready for another five years of "steady" work.

The Path of Innovation

Over the course of his career, King has redefined "custom design." His first company, a joint venture with a friend, was an "anything for a buck" company called Metron Biomedical. "If somebody wanted something built and had an idea in their head, we were willing to give it a shot," says King.

Similarly, says King, feedback about the SPIDER from surgeons has been essential to the design process.

King began to work on engineering projects when he was in his early teens, using the family garage as his workshop. At 14, he learned his first lesson in intellectual property after presenting his prototype unicycle-skateboard to the local bike shop. He was laughed off. But six months later, he saw his invention in the window of a bike shop showroom. "It didn't do well, thank goodness!" says King.

Hoping to follow a different path than his engineer-father and brothers, King went to the University of Calgary to study biology as a springboard to medicine. "My impression of the human body was that it was one of the most amazing machines in the world," says King. However, when it became clear that medicine wasn't for him, a friend's suggestion that he look to his strengths opened a door to another career: medical engineering.

In the early '90s it was difficult to find a bio-engineering program, says King. "You had to go out and create it yourself." He did just that, turning every engineering assignment that he could into a medical project. By the time he graduated with his second degree, this time from the University of British Columbia, he and a classmate had already started a contracting firm for medical device R&D.

In 1997, King left Vancouver to join TENET Medical Engineering, Inc., a company initiated at the University of Calgary with a grant from the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. At the time, TENET consisted of President and Founder Ken Moore, receptionist Kathy Lovejoy, and King as the third employee.

A National Research Council (NRC) grant helped pay King's wages. Later, the NRC's Industrial Research Assistance Program allowed TENET to hire additional technical staff. King and the technical team looked at various problems that surgeons wanted solved. A chrysalis of ideas that would eventually become the SPIDER began to take shape.

From technical sketches on napkins to the first conceptual prototype - built with a $20 grease gun from Canadian Tire - King was starting to see his way to a functioning limb positioner. Technical challenges, such as filling the unit with hydraulic fluid but not air bubbles, kept King busy in the machine shop. The work often meant getting covered head to toe in hydraulic fluid. "It was a mess," says King.

Although King has led development of the SPIDER from the beginning, he notes that it took many people to get the invention off the ground. "It's never one person that creates something like this," he says.

TENET's machining guru Silvu Calin helped King with prototypes and refinements. Dr. Geof Auchinleck, a colleague from King's days in Vancouver, provided expert advice on surgical positioners. Staff at Calgary's Peter Lougheed Hospital tested and reviewed the first SPIDER models. Even a creative grade 2 class chipped in, suggesting the limb-like device be named for a spider.

In 2002, King, Auchinleck and Moore's initial patent on SPIDER technology was accepted.

SPIDER Limb Positioner Finds Steady Employment

Now a company worth $8 million Can, TENET operated from hand to mouth while building the SPIDER prototypes. So that TENET could afford to pay their machine shop staff, in 1999 King took on full time work with another company. While his day job paid the bills, he spent evenings and weekends on the design of the SPIDER.

Moore kept the lights on and staffed the shop by day. An initial loan from family and friends helped finance the first production run. By late 2003, some commercial success meant that King could rejoin TENET as a full time engineer, this time also as a partner and co-owner.

Smith and Nephew took over distribution of the SPIDER in 2004.

King's professional goal, to "do well while doing good," had come to fruition. To date, over 2100 SPIDERs have been sold and the product accounts for over half of TENET's revenue.

Canadian Technology on World Stage

Canadians are altogether too polite and quiet about their accomplishments, King notes. "We do some fantastic things here in Canada, particularly in technology."

He credits the Manning Innovation Awards for inspiring him as a young engineer to reach for the top. Winning this award, says King, is a dream come true: "When I graduated from university, I didn't think I would ever be able to accomplish what it takes to get this…I am honoured to be considered."

With the SPIDER Limb Positioner in use on every continent, King and his colleagues at TENET do indeed have something to celebrate.

The SPIDER is "a good foundation," adds King. The capabilities of the base technology could be expanded, potentially for use in other fields, such as veterinary medicine. "We've got a myriad of ideas," he says.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year the Foundation will award $165,000 in prize money. Four awards, totalling $145,000, will go to leading Canadian innovators. Another $20,000 will go to Young Canadians chosen at the 2009 Canada-Wide Science Fair. The Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of prominent Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovators. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented over $4 million in prize money through its annual awards program (www.manningawards.ca).