MechSE faculty, staff, students stepping up in COVID-19 battle


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Early samples of the Illinois RapidVent ventilators
Early samples of the Illinois RapidVent ventilators
MechSE researchers have been at the forefront of an Illinois engineering team that—together with Carle Health—has produced a prototype emergency ventilator to help address the expected surge in the need for respiratory care associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Focused testing in the laboratory has shown their prototype delivers equivalent performance to commercial products, which continue to be in very short supply.

MechSE Professor William King has been project leader on this “Illinois RapidVent” team. He credits the work of dozens of involved researchers, including many MechSE faculty, staff, and graduate students.  

“These are amazingly talented engineers,” King said. “They have leaned in to really help on this project in a meaningful way.”

Harley Johnson is a member of the leadership team on the RapidVent project. He pulled the team together in mid-March and has provided administrative support and arranged funding to support the effort through the Grainger College of Engineering Office of Research. In addition, he has led the supply chain team and coordinated government relations and compliance efforts. He is now interfacing with potential manufacturing partners as the team tries to scale the project up. Johnson is a MechSE Professor, Kritzer Faculty Scholar, and the Associate Dean for Research with the Grainger College of Engineering.

Sam Tawfick co-led one of the three engineering teams in the project’s first phase, which focused on design all the way to building the first functioning prototype. With Tonghun Lee, he co-led a team that worked on the understanding, design, drawing, and coordinating the fabrication of a part of the device that connects to the oxygen source and the patient. He now co-leads a single engineering and test team with Stefan Elbel. His role has covered many aspects, from planning tests to fabrication of some functional parts in his own lab and making sure every part is re-designed and tested as needed. Tawfick is a MechSE Assistant Professor.

Tonghun Lee has contributed to the design/engineering team and is responsible for design of the T-junction section that allows the input and output of oxygen to the ventilator. Lee is a MechSE Professor.

Stefan Elbel has served as the team co-lead for Engineering and Test, along with Tawfick. He coordinated the team’s activities, contributed engineering solutions to understand functionality and design and improve the various ventilator prototype components. He interfaced with staff from Carle to translate medical needs into engineering specifications and requirements. He designed and implemented measurement systems and test facilities to quickly obtain accurate performance data for the prototypes to be able to compare with commercially available parts. He implemented durability tests, provided engineering support during animal testing, provided support for supply chain, and helped with transfer of engineering knowledge to potential manufacturers. He has also served as the interface to the team at Creative Thermal Solutions, where more than 10 engineers and technicians have provided substantial support throughout the course of the project. Elbel is a MechSE Research Assistant Professor.

Mike Philpott has led the “Systems Engineering” team and created the full assembly model of RapidVent. He CAD-modeled the center section of RapidVent and worked with Blake Johnson and Eric Wood, who each CAD-modeled the other two sections. They then brought the sections together as one assembled unit. More recently, he has led the Helmet Design team, which is making a BiPaP helmet designed to work with RapidVent to enable Non-invasive ventilation. Philpott is a MechSE Associate Professor Emeritus and Lecturer.

Blake Johnson has been working on the modulator system of the ventilator, which controls the peak inhalation pressure and the breathing rate of the patient. He has also worked with Tawfick to manufacture a two-piece flexible diaphragm for the modulator. Johnson is MechSE’s Director of Undergraduate Instructional Laboratories.

Ralf Möller has consulted on the project using 3D printing and making prototype parts and post processing them 24/7. Möller is MechSE’s Director of Technical Services.

Ricardo Toro is part of the Helmet Design team led by Philpott. He is working on the design and CAD modeling of the helmet. Toro is a Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate working in Professor Placid Ferreira’s lab.

Eric Wood has primarily been involved in the design of an adjustable inlet nozzle for the device, which will allow healthcare providers to actively adjust the FiO2, or oxygen concentration, being delivered to their patients while they are using this device. Wood is a Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate working in Professor Lee’s lab.

For more information, visit the Illinois RapidVent home page on The Grainger College of Engineering website.

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This story was published April 3, 2020.