Enel Foundation alumnus, university team designs open-source ventilators

A team of engineers and healthcare practitioners at South Africa’s University of Johannesburg (UJ), including the Enel Foundation’s 2019 Open Africa Project (OPA) alumnus Dr Samuel Masebino, have taken an innovative approach to the provision of ventilators in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest reports indicate that South Africa has less than half the number of ventilators needed to deal with peak infections, with the pandemic expected to peak between July and September, with between 40-70% of South African’s expected to contract the virus.

The team, led by UJ’s Dr Deon Sabatta and Dr Samson Masebinu, an alumnus of the Enel Foundation’s 2019 Open Africa Energy Project, have taken a three-pronged approach towards support for critical care technology development. The approach includes the further development of open-source ventilators, support repair and maintenance efforts to bring out of warranty equipment into service and to make rapid prototyping facilities available to enable PPE manufacturing.

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The team identified several simple, safe and scalable open-source designs that could meet the strict specifications for use with patients if further developed and tested. By building on open source designs, the team has developed a minimal viable product with elements that can be produced through 3D printing and laser cutting techniques. These designs will support the development of the critical control systems that protect a patient supported by a ventilator.

The UJ Process Energy and Environmental Technology Station (UJ-PEETS) is supporting efforts to identify decommissioned ventilators at public and private hospitals to bring out of service equipment back online, focussing their efforts on e-Waste reduction in a circular economy to support the medical engineering maintenance programmes at hospitals.

“Through our repair and maintenance undertaking, this assignment will build on the principles of circularity and create employment opportunities since there are large amounts of equipment that can be repaired and calibrated for reuse, especially beyond our borders in South Africa” explained Dr Masebinu. “There is no sector more critical at this moment than healthcare, which is why we are proud to play a role in helping to produce and revamp these critical life-saving devices.”

Dr Sabatta, said “Ventilators are complex medical devices, and it is more intricate than simply squeezing a bag. Our product includes devices such as, pressure sensors, flow sensors, and a number of control algorithms. It can, therefore, be set up to perform more advanced ventilation tasks such as Pressure Support Ventilation (PSV) or Synchronous Intermitent Mandatory Ventilation (SIMV). This is a step up in ventilation support, by being able to assist patients further when they are tiring from being on Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) systems for extended periods of time.”

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