As I write this from my home office during quarantine, I am reflecting on what has become the new normal. I don’t think many of us thought we’d live to see a day where massive, global layoffs occur and nearly every single country would close its borders, restrict domestic travel, and order us all to stay home.
This is a critical moment in modern history. It will have lasting implications for many businesses and governments, let alone all of us as individuals who need to pay rent, send our kids to school or want to see our families. These implications will no doubt linger long after we’ve flattened the curve.
“If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more”. – Gen. Eric Shinseki
Humans are resilient, however, and people around the world have been finding new ways to support their communities and digitally connect with loved ones. And hardware, manufacturing and product development communities have quickly risen to the occasion to hack together solutions to the global shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and ventilators in hospitals. Many have made this information open source to the public, such as the Vancouver Makers for Emergency Response and Support group (VMERS).
MistyWest is in a unique position when it comes to tackling the spread of COVID-19. We have the ability to manufacture beta production runs of up to 2000 units (depending on the size and complexity of the device), support companies (both large and small) who are fighting COVID-19 with their connected device projects, and provide the research and development needed to prototype and iterate on concepts. Cofounder Leigh Christie has mobilized too; he created the BC Open Source Covid-19 Medical Supplies group for engineers to assemble, has been tirelessly researching information on government grants, and organizing Ask Me Anything sessions almost daily on Facebook.
We wanted to highlight some of the incredible work that is being done by engineering, prototyping and product development teams to stop the spread of COVID-19–many of whom Canadian and BC-based–and in no particular order, you can read about them below.
Dr. Renato Favero of the Gardone Valtrompia Hospital outside Bergamo, Italy was faced with a possibility of a shortage of hospital C-PAP masks that could potentially lead to continued spread of COVID-19. Ingenious problem solving led him to experimenting with an Easybreath snorkeling mask from Decathlon as an emergency ventilator mask.
Dr. Favero reached out to Issinova, an Italian product development consultancy, to design an adapter for the existing Decathlon masks and begin prototyping. The redesigned mask was sent for a first trial in hospital and the results came back as successful. However, patients need to sign a waiver prior to using the uncertified device while in care.
Issinova has patented their product, but clarifies “that the patent will remain free to use, because it is in our intention that all hospitals in need could use it if necessary.”
2. Portable Electric
Portable Electric is no stranger to providing their services in times of crisis; in 2018, after Hurricane Florence, they sent VOLTstack units and solar panels by the truckload to help with relief efforts.
While their VOLTstack units have traditionally been used for film production, Portable Electric has shifted focus to distribution for emergency medical care to meet current demands.
“We know from experience that, in a crisis, power is not always the first thing people think of – until it’s not there, or not reliable. Then it is critical,” says CEO Mark Rabin. As hospital beds fill up around the country, there is an increased burden on hospitals and medical centres to provide adequate facilities for patients in temporary clinics. Portable Electric is providing clean portable power for mobile clinics, temporary triage centres, and backup power for ventilators and sensitive medical equipment.
3. LNG Studios
Using open source design available from Prusa Printers, LNG Studios–a consultancy in Vancouver that specializes in 3D architectural renderings for the real estate industry–have dedicated their five 3D printers to producing approximately 40 face shields a day for care workers–but CEO Leon Ng estimates 300 are required daily to meet demands.
Ng is calling on the Vancouver 3D printing community to come together to meet demands. “We’ve partnered with five local hospitals who have already tested our prototypes and are in need and waiting for these supplies.” says LNG’s website.
BC companies can turn to the Strategic Innovation Fund for funding to repurpose equipment and shift focus to production of emergency medical supplies that support initiatives like Ng’s.
4. D-Wave Systems
Quantum-computing vendor D-Wave Systems Inc–whose partners and customers include Volkswagen and Kyocera Corporation, and Menten AI–is offering free access to its Leap hybrid quantum cloud service to researchers and engineers tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burnaby, BC based D-Wave Systems’ quantum computers can process data on a molecular level as indefinite combinations of ones and zeroes (qubits), making it entirely possible for researchers to simulate molecular interactions such as between COVID-19 and target cells.
Their machines even have the capability of speeding up calculations related to drug discovery and hospital logistics. CEO Alan Baratz said that even if their partners don’t yield the solutions they are searching for, “we would be remiss if we didn’t make this tool available.”
5. UBC Emergency Ventilator Project
There is already a shortage of ventilators in hospitals across the globe, and while many companies are shifting gears to focus on manufacturing parts for the devices, there’s also teams of engineers and medical professionals innovating designs for new ones.
UBC Emergency Ventilator Project’s mission is to “build low-cost (<$500) ventilators* and other respiratory support equipment for use within the BC health system and developing countries,” with a goal to have a prototype ready for testing in early April. At the time of writing, the Gravity Ventilator (gVent) that utilizes gravity, water, and two cylindrical vessels has been prototyped (at a cost of around $400) and is undergoing technology refinements.
Ocalink was founded on March 19 by Corbin Lowe, with a goal to manufacture 1 million emergency ventilators in 90 days as part of the Emergency Ventilator Project. On March 25 they sent a Vancouver Coastal Health-approved prototype of the Pantheon Emergency Ventilator to Health Canada and the authorities for regulatory approval.
The ventilator design is relatively simple, comprising interchangeable parts and only 41 components, and “does only exactly what the respiratory department needs for this specific virus and it doesn’t do anything extra,” says Lowe.
Manufacturing will utilize smaller plants set up for medical grade equipment, with small, 12 person assembly lines.
Vancouver-based particle accelerator TRIUMF has partnered with Nobel laureate Arthur McDonald and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories to produce an easy-to-manufacture hospital ventilator that requires a source of compressed oxygen and electrical power and few mechanical parts to operate.
“The only thing that is important, if the machine works, is to have it replicated as fast as possible,” Dr. McDonald told The Globe & Mail. A prototype based off of an Italian physics project’s dark matter detection system has been designed and is undergoing testing in Europe, and parts and materials are easily accessed within Canada.
Honourable Mention: Aaron MacDonald, Mechanical Design Engineer at MistyWest
Aaron learned that his wife (an RN) and fellow healthcare workers are experiencing discomfort from wearing over-the-ear surgical masks, so he hacked together a prototype to tackle this problem using a thin piece of polypropylene from the packaging of mountain bike tire from Maxxis Tires.
“The plastic sheet just needs to be stiff enough to support the hooks where the mask strings loop over. I used a drill to put some holes in it, but a punch would work too, and cut the shape so that it’s wider across the back of the head, for comfort.”
After a successful trial run, Aaron created another concept for the head strap, “using pieces cut from the side wall of an old mountain bike tire, with the tire bead acting as the stiff piece holding the mask strings. I’m hoping it’ll be a bit more comfortable because the material is rubber.”
Aaron’s intention with this garage hack was to just use scissors and common materials you might find around the house – product packaging, yogurt containers, bike tires, and other things that might otherwise immediately end up in the landfill. Use of a 3D printer or laser cutter is entirely optional, but not required!