3 home projects address urgent needs triggered by pandemic 

Innovation is always up for a challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up an interesting one for the development team at Enventys Partners, a Charlotte-based product and development company.

Job One was to ensure the health and viability of our team. So like most of the rest of the world, we have shifted to working remotely.

Fortunately, since most of our projects are physically the size of a loaf of bread or smaller, we were able to divvy up prototype parts and equipment to various people on the team while being able to effectively advance the development for most of our projects.

It has been amazing to see the response from the creative and development communities to innovate and use the tools we have to help save the lives of those infected with the virus and their caregivers. Here are three projects where the product development community has been on the front lines:

Makeshift ventilator

Because the virus attacks the respiratory system, ventilators have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight. This has caused an acute shortage of the devices.

Some people infected develop pneumonia or respiratory inflammation that render the lungs ineffective. In patients with these symptoms, ventilators can take over the job of breathing and provide heavily oxygenated air to keep them alive.

One interesting way to help with the ventilator shortage is to use one ventilator for multiple patients. This is accomplished by splitting the output air from the ventilator into two streams. It can be done with a simple part called a Y-splitter that looks like a plumbing fitting.

Charlotte-based Atrium Health wanted to deploy this strategy in its hospitals throughout the Southeast but did not have the resources to build them. Atrium Health contacted Enventys Partners, which was able to quickly finish the design and produce the needed parts.

TJ Root, Enventys Partners’ senior mechanical engineer, led the initiative and created CAD for the splitters before building them on a new production spec Origin 3D printer from medical grade material. The plan is to build hundreds of these units.

Open Air Project

The Dominican Republic is extremely underequipped to handle the pandemic, with about 400 ventilator-equipped ICUs for a country of about 10 million people. A group of talented engineers has created an initiative called the Open Air Project to help.

Marizeth Beato leads the team. She is a student of an innovation bootcamp I helped lead in the DR in February. The team designed an automated ventilation system that uses a set of gear-driven arms to collapse a hand pump-style ventilator bulb and create the breath pulse. Though not meant to be a long-term treatment, the device provides emergency care to patients and keeps hospital staff from having to manually attend to compressing the bulbs.

The open-source design, inspired by an MIT project from a decade ago, has been updated to use low-cost parts and fabrication techniques that can be easily duplicated in the DR and other Latin American countries.

The Open Air team tested its first prototype at a hospital in Santo Domingo before deploying one at a hospital in San Francisco de Macoris, a city two hours north. Based on the positive results from that test, Open Air DR has been given the green light to build and deploy more of these devices.

Beato says that attending the innovation bootcamp gave her the methodologies to take on the challenge. It also introduced her to the hardware from IoT company Particle, which she has been using in the machines. Particle is donating cellular-enabled Boron devices to help the program.

Improved face shields

Protective equipment is a frontline need for health care professionals and staff. Scott Tarcy, Charlotte-based designer and owner of design firm CAD Design Help, has led the charge to help since a local doctor sought assistance.

The doctor was familiar with the now-ubiquitous, open-source design of the low-cost 3D printed face shields. However, she wanted one that would wrap further around her face to behind her ears instead of stopping just behind the eyes.

Tarcy quickly modified the design and built a set of prototypes. He took the program a step further by creating a GoFundMe crowdfunding page and used the proceeds to buy the materials for making about 75 masks for donation to Charlotte hospitals and clinics.

Enventys Partners was inspired by his actions. One of its engineers, Casey Povelones, helped him fabricate the masks by cutting the face shields on Enventys Partners’ waterjet cutter.

Tarcy is also working on a no-touch device that allows users to interact with their environment without having to touch potential virus-infected areas, such as door handles and bathroom fixtures.

—Jeremy Losaw, Enventys Partners engineering director