Amid the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, engineers from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) have developed a 3D printed ventilator able to support multiple patients.
According to a statement by the university, in light of the looming ventilator shortages faced by the country, the UJ engineering team designed and developed the portable 3D printed mechanical ventilators.
The ventilator, named AURA IMPRIMERE, is not only portable, but also allows for off-grid operations for up to one and a half hours.
It also has a customisable base plate to treat multiple patients.
Professor Tien-Chien Jen, the head of UJ’s Mechanical Engineering Science Department and the project team leader, said the ventilators are ready and safe to operate.
“These unique 3D printable ventilators use a microcontroller to control the operation of the two motors. By adjusting the speed and direction of rotation of the motors, it is possible to obtain a pressure-time profile that is suitable for respiratory assistance of patients,” Jen said.
Jen added that the ventilator’s battery system will also ensure normal functioning when the demand for electricity exceeds the available supply.
Additionally, Jen said the ventilator has been designed in such a way that it can be “easily assembled, on site, in cities, rural areas, or remote areas.
“The UJ-led team plans to distribute the active breathing circuit system on an ‘open source’ basis, making the software and designs freely available and can be produced anywhere in the world, provided that the producers own a 3D printer,” the statement read.
The ventilator is based on a reciprocating engine piston and crank design, with the motors extracted from locally bought electric screwdrivers.
The ventilator also allows for electronic components, such as a control resistor, variable resistor, and a small programmable computer, to be used.
“These electronic components can customise the pulse needed for the patient and can vary the speed of the pulsation. The crank design provides a linear motion for the slider relative to the slider base.
“Here the ‘fingers’ are integrated that pushes the ambu bag (self-inflating bag) and allow it to deflate. The design is such that the friction between moving parts is minimised,” Jen said.
“The ambu bag comes in different sizes, and the invention can be custom changed with ease, on site, according to the patient’s age, condition, and breathing necessity.
“This is due to the meshed base plates that allows the clamps, mechanism, electrical housing, etc. to be reoriented and placed as the consumer pleases. Inspired by ‘LEGO’ type designs,” Jen concluded.
In April, News24 reported that South Africa has less than half the ventilators it needs to deal with the peak of the virus infection.
According to the report, public and private hospitals currently have a total of 3 216 ventilators, compared to the 7 000 needed for the peak, which is expected to hit in September.
In June, News24 reported that only 350 ventilators were added to existing capacities in public hospitals, of which 50 were donated.