Bristol Engineer supports collaborative European ventilator production project

A researcher from the University of Bristol contributed to a Belgian-led effort to develop open-source Covid-19 ventilators made from automotive components, to support hospitals during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Yannick Verbelen, a Research Associate in the Interface Analysis Centre and the South West Nuclear Hub, worked with Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)’s FabLab who coordinated the project between academic and industrial organisations. In particular, the team was able to secure the support of Audi Brussels, with 50 ventilators being produced on their production line in early April. Other major contributors were Mazda, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Volvo to name just a few.

Assembly of the Series 1 test machines. Credit: Lieven Standaert

The project focused on using parts from the automotive industry in order to avoid depleting valuable supplies of medical equipment. With manufacturing capability strongly hit by coronavirus lockdowns, several companies provided parts such as windscreen wiper motors and electronic components for free, with other parts purchased thanks to crowdsourcing.

The team’s initial aim was to design and build 10 industrial quality ventilators which could operate for at least one week. They used open source technology such as They used open source technology such as the Arduino ecosystem and rapid prototyping methods including 3D printing, CNC milling, and lasercutting. The project has also been an excellent example of agile working and organisation, with members of the team spread across several countries and institutions.

Talking about the project, Dr Verbelen said: “With time as our greatest enemy, making car parts and medical electronics ‘talk’ to each in a race against the clock proved to be a formidable challenge. The unprecedented urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired the team to overcome the practical and logistical limitations of the lockdown. Efficient collaboration enabled us to design and prototype high end electronic circuit boards within 15 days, a process that normally takes months.”

Whilst initially focused on helping met Belgian demand for ventilators, the project team is now investigating possible deployment in Jordan, Brazil, Canada, Italy, and Spain. Fortunately, the ventilators were not required in Belgium as demand was not as high as anticipated, but the work continues should demand rise domestically or abroad in the future.

 

Several other members of the South West Nuclear Hub have supported efforts to fight coronavirus - you can read about these activities here.

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