Innovative Engineering Solutions Contribute to COVID-19 Medical Protection

Innovative Engineering Solutions Contribute to COVID-19 Medical Protection
Innovative Engineering Solutions Contribute to COVID-19 Medical Protection

Many organizations in the manufacturing industry have shifted assets in order to innovate and produce solutions that are contributing to the protection of medical personnel on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. In this article, we highlight two of these innovative engineering solutions that are keeping these crucial personnel safe:

MAXAIR Controlled Air Purifying Respirator (CAPR )

Essentially, the MAXAIR CAPR is a helmet with an integrated air filtration system and a shroud providing protection for medical personnel.  The unit is a compact, lightweight, computerized, no-hose, Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR), whose integrated design avoids the need for large air tubes and heavy belt-mounted blower units.  A blower, controlled by micro-computer, facilitates the adjustment of airflow at the desired level by the user according to their activity level.

The unit works to provide medical professionals with protection from COVID-19, while providing the caregivers an unobstructed view and continuous clean air.  The user pulls the air inside the equipment through the filter, which gets distributed around the face gently. Positive pressure is maintained in the helmet, which facilitates breathing without heat, moisture and carbon-dioxide build-up and lens fogging.  The system simplifies de-contamination and avoids the need for following rigorous cleaning procedures. The device ensures accurate fit during real-time working conditions to ensure overall comfort and non-interference to healthcare professionals during activities.  The configuration allows a full and clear field view for unobstructed communication with patients.

The system contains four primary components: a helmet with power cord, battery, belt and charger. Various other components, such as fan, filter, airflow system and motor, are also integrated. The filter cartridge is housed in the helmet, while the filter cover cap (FCC) is securely placed over it. Headband adjustments are positioned for secured wearing.  An airflow switch on the helmet adjusts and operates airflow. Shroud and hood configurations with an assigned protection factor (APF) 1000 allow full head and neck coverage.  An  LED indicator in the helmet alerts the user for the equipment maintenance in real-time, and a lithium-ion battery clips onto the battery belt, adjusted around the waist. The system offers battery options for runtimes of 8-10 or 20 hours.   Developed by Bio-Medical Devices International, the  personal protective equipment (PPE) has also seen approval by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for protection against aerosolised and airborne particulates.

MIT's Innovative Disposable Face Shields

Martin Culpepper, an MIT engineering professor, led a team of engineers, doctors and scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to design a new type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shield cut with a tool called a die cutter. The shield is foldable so it can be stacked in mass quantities and shipped in boxes by the thousands.

Marty Culpepper, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering, is MIT's first Maker Czar. He is passionate about all aspects of making and breaking, as demonstrated in his 2.72 class, where the student teams spend the semester building desktop lathes. Professor Culpepper is the recipient of an NSF Presidential Early Career Award, two R&D 100 awards, a TR100 award and a Joel and Ruth Spira Teaching Award. He is not one to be afraid of getting his hands dirty. His favorite maker tools are mills and waterjets, though he's become fond of glass blowing.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Culpepper and his colleagues at MIT began participating in brainstorming sessions on Zoom, working through ways they could apply their expertise and contribute solutions. After brainstorming and prototyping, Culpepper and his team at Project Manus designed a face shield that could be rapidly produced at a scale large enough to meet the growing demand. They landed on a flat design that people could quickly fold into a three-dimensional structure when the shield was ready for use. Their design also includes extra protection, with flaps that fold under the neck and over the forehead.

The single piece face shield design is made using a process known as die cutting. Machines will cut the design from thousands of flat sheets per hour.   

The die cutter machines used in mass manufacturing will produce the flat face shields at a rate of 50,000 shields per day. The manufacturer will continue to ramp up and increase the rate of manufacturing further, with the ability to fabricate in more than 80 facilities nationwide.   Shipped flat, 250 shields can be deployed at a time in a box that's 14 by 20 by 6 inches.

“This process has been designed in such a way that there is the potential to ramp up to millions of face shields produced per day,” explains Culpepper. “This could very quickly become a nationwide solution for face shield shortages.”

Once boxes of these flat sheets arrive at hospitals, health care professionals can quickly fold them into three-dimensional face shields before adjusting for their faces.

“These face shields have to be made rapidly and at low cost because they need to be disposable,” explains Martin Culpepper, professor of mechanical engineering, director of Project Manus,  and a member of MIT’s governance team on manufacturing opportunities for Covid-19. “Our technique combines low-cost materials with a high-rate manufacturing that has the potential of meeting the need for face shields nationwide.”

Culpepper, and his team at Project Manus, spearheaded the development of the technique in collaboration with a number of partners from MIT, local-area hospitals, and industry. The team has been working closely with the MIT Medical Outreach team and the Crisis Management Unit established by Vice President for Research Maria Zuber and directed by Elazer R. Edelman, the Edward J. Poitras Professor in Medical Engineering and Science at MIT.

When used correctly, face masks should be changed every time a doctor or nurse treats a new patient. However, over the past month, many health care professionals have been asked to wear one face mask per day. That one mask could carry virus particles — potentially contributing to the spread of Covid-19 within hospitals and endangering health care professionals.

“The lack of adequate protective equipment or the idea of reusing potentially contaminated equipment is especially frightening to health care workers who are putting their lives, and by extension the lives and well-being of their families, on the line every day,” explains Edelman, who is also the director of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and leader of MIT’s PPE task force.

Face shields can address this problem by providing another layer of protection that covers masks and entire faces while extending the life of PPE. The shields are made of clear materials and have a shape similar to a welder's mask. They protect the health care professional, and their face mask, from coming in direct contact with virus particles spread through coughing or sneezing.

“If we can slow down the rate at which health care professionals use face masks with a disposable face shield, we can make a real difference in protecting their health and safety,” explains Culpepper.

About The Author

Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. In addition to working at various large companies (e.g., Sundstrand, Johnson Controls, and Wago), Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, where he designed controls, automation systems, and software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. He was also a product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and president of an industrial control software company.

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