Auburn engineers repurpose CPAP machines into emergency ventilators

Auburn engineers repurpose CPAP machines into emergency ventilators
Michael Zabala, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Auburn's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and Tom Burch, lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, examine the RE-INVENT accessory that would safely repurpose a CPAP into a functional ventilator. (Auburn University)

Auburn University engineers have developed a way to convert CPAP machines into emergency ventilators, a valuable tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The design, called RE-INVENT, is one of several efforts at Auburn to aid health care workers in Alabama and beyond. Faculty and staff also have produced hand sanitizer and 3D-printed protective face shields to boost a critical shortage of medical supplies.

RE-INVENT is an accessory that would create a functional ventilator from a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine. Such machines are used to help people with obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily while they sleep.

Tom Burch and Michael Zabala, faculty members in Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, initiated the project. They received help from other faculty members, alumni and medical professionals.

“What started as pure intellectual curiosity quickly grew into an emotional race against time to potentially save lives,” Zabala said. “We wanted to know if we could design a solution to solve the ventilator shortage problem.”

Making an impact

RE-INVENT is efficient and economical, two key considerations for the development team.

The device can be assembled in four hours using about $700 worth of parts in addition to a standard CPAP machine, compared to the typical hospital ventilator price tag of $25,000 or more.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided guidance to health care providers that may allow them to use RE-INVENT to help increase the availability of ventilators and other respiratory devices during the pandemic.

The Auburn team is continuing to work on the project and exploring options to share the design with health care providers and manufacturers. More info is available here.

“These are difficult times,” Burch said. “Everybody who understands the gravity of the situation wants to do something to help, so it feels good to think you’ve helped with something that may have an impact.”

Auburn engineering faculty and staff also have donated personal protective equipment and supplies to East Alabama Medical Center, including 10 gallons of hand sanitizer mixed in a campus lab and 400 3D-printed protective face shields.

A group of volunteers from engineering, the College of Agriculture and the College of Architecture, Design and Construction has been producing the face shields using a network of on-campus 3D printers.

They plan to keep running the printers around the clock, with the ability to produce about 150 face shields per day.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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