A multidisciplinary engineering design and fabrication team of staff and students from The University of the South Pacific’s School of Information Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Physics (STEMP) at Laucala Campus have developed a low-cost emergency care ventilator prototype for use in local hospitals.
Ventilators are complex, expensive machines used to support critically ill COVID-19 patients by forcing high oxygen content air into their lungs, under the direct supervision of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) medical staff. Commercial hospital-grade ventilators are priced between $50,000 – $100,000 FJD.
In developing countries like Fiji, the availability of ventilators is limited. This was the motivation behind the USP engineering team to design and build a ventilator that could assist during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The ventilator is designed to survive extreme treatment and harsh environments. The exterior casing is made of welded stainless-steel plate with both sides being ventilated by extraction fans.
This project was funded by the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) which is one of the largest university networks in the world with 1007 members in 119 countries. The AUF helps its members to solve their challenges (quality of training, research and governance, employability and entrepreneurship, active participation in economic, cultural and intercultural development).
Following the global COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, AUF sent out a special call for COVID-19 related projects.
USP’s team of young engineers were part of nearly 2000 teams that applied from 79 countries. AUF financed 92 projects from 87 member institutes in 44 countries.
Dr Michael Wood, Senior Fellow in Mechanical Engineering said with the help of the Fijian Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MoHMS), the team had set out to design and build a low-cost emergency ventilator that would not only aid during a COVID-19 outbreak, but could also be used in other emergencies.
“At the design stage our team ensured that the appropriate international medical equipment standards were followed so that the final product would be suitable for use in any hospital in any country,” he said.
The USP engineering team for the ventilator project consisted of 4 smaller teams; Design, Procurement, Construction and Controls, working under the guidance of the USP Engineering staff and postgraduate students.
Major design work was completed during the Advanced Mechanical Engineering Design course (MM365), with student volunteers working during their semester break to complete the construction of the emergency ventilator prototype.
Dr Wood said the team overcame numerous challenges when producing the machine, but this did not deter them from successfully completing the project.
“A major challenge was procuring electronic components from overseas during the COVID-19 outbreak. The teams used several strategies to manage the project efficiently to ensure we had all the parts we needed. Another hurdle faced by the teams was the precision manufacturing required for such products but even with limited manufacturing tools, the team was able to manufacture all mechanical parts. This was done mostly in-house and, where not possible, fabrication was outsourced to local engineering shops,” he added.
The Controls Team also developed in-house code to control the emergency ventilator and interface with motion limiting and pressure sensors to ensure there is no risk to patients.
According to Dr Wood, the ventilator machine has been designed for use by suitably qualified medical staff. The operator can control breaths per min (BPM), tidal volume (TV– the volume of air forced into the lung), the ratio between inhalation and exhalation (I/E Ratio), and the positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP – using a pressure sensor, the ventilator can detect when a patient has sufficiently recovered to commence continuous spontaneous breathing and the ventilator can be switched off automatically).
The device performed smoothly during initial testing where an artificial lung was used in place of a patient to test the functionality and performance of the device. The team continues to perform reliability and safety tests on the USP-AUF Ventilator to improve its operation and make it available when deemed safe to do so.
“The student volunteers and staff are extremely grateful to the AUF and the MoHMS for supporting this project and we are looking forward to developing more prototypes,” Dr Wood added.
Head of the STEMP and Professor in Electrical/Electronic Engineering, Professor Maurizio Cirrincione says that the realisation of this prototype can make ventilators available at a lower price than those in the market. He also added that this work is good evidence of the level of mechanical and electrical/electronic engineers in USP, which boasts of both programmes accredited by the Engineering New Zealand within the prestigious Washington Accord, the most important international accreditation agreement for undergraduate professional engineering academic degrees, between the bodies responsible for accreditation, across the world.
Mr Chandra Maisonnier, Director of AUF Vanuatu said “In this period of the pandemic, the AUF is very proud to support its member universities in their desire to help their community. We have a strong initiative in Fiji with the USP and the Engineering Department, which has embarked on the construction of these low-cost ventilators. This is a good example of the potential of universities to be a vector of innovation for civil society. We can underline the investment of these young students in this work and the support of their professors to carry out this project which makes sense in this period of crisis”
The ventilator prototype team consisted of the following staff and students:
Dr Daniel Wood, Senior Fellow in Mechanical Engineering;
Prof. Maurizio Cirrincione, Head of the STEMP and Professor in Electrical/Electronic Engineering;
Krishnil Ram, Assistant Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering; and
Nayzel Imran Jannif, Assistant Lecturer in Electrical/Electronics Engineering.
Construction Team (Mechanical Engineering)
Sanjay Singh, STEMP Technician;
Ashneel Deo, STEMP Technician;
Rovin Kumar; STEMP Technician;
Shiu Prasad; STEMP Senior Technician;
Kaamil Edward, Student;
Obaidullah Saqib, Student;
Avikash Chand, Student;
Mohammed Anshaar Khan, Student;
Shamal Prakash, Student;
Tevita Seru, Student; and
Krishnil Nair, Student
Circuit and Programming (Electrical Engineering)
Sukhde Harishkumar Joshi, Student;
Krishneel Ram Sharma, Student;
Krish Kumar Raj, Student;
Vineet Prasad, PG Student;
Vivek Shankaranand, PG Student; and
Abdul Khan, STEMP Technician
Deepika Lal, STEMP Executive Officer;
Binal Raj, STEMP Senior Technician;
Ulamila Ramakosoi, Student;
Kevneel Chandra, Student; and
Vilesh Chand, Student