Smart Machines & Factories
All-in-one servos solve ventilator challenges
Published:  11 October, 2021
Teknic Ventilator - 3  3D Drawing

Teknic’s ClearPath All-in-one Servos were used to solve several technical challenges in a low-cost ventilator alternative developed by Boston Scientific, the University of Minnesota Medical School and others.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was experiencing critical shortages. As hospitals ran out of ventilators, doctors were turning to anaesthesia workstations, BiPAP machines, and CPAP machines to help ventilate patients. As doctors exhausted their supplies of ventilators and quasi-ventilators, they were scrambling to find alternatives.

At first, the solution may seem obvious—produce more ventilators — but by the time manufacturers were able to scale up production to meet current and future demand, it would be too late.

Given that scaling up conventional ventilators would take too long, medical professionals needed additional answers, otherwise the only remaining option would be to manually ventilate patients with Ambu bags and hope that conventional ventilators become available.

Although Ambu bags are readily available, there were not enough trained clinicians (nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, etc) to operate these devices for every patient in need.

Operating an Ambu bag requires a clinician to actuate the bag about 10-30 times per minute without stopping—an action that quickly becomes tiring. When one clinician fatigues, a new one must take over, and this cycle must continue until the patient recovers or a ventilator becomes available.

Teknic worked on a project to automate the operation of Ambu bags, freeing up valuable resources for other tasks.

In mid-March, a team including Dr Stephen Richardson (an anaesthesiologist at the University of Minnesota), Jim McGurran (an engineer from MGC Diagnostics), and a small group from the Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center conceived the idea of a one-armed robot (that is, a single-axis linear actuator) to automate human ventilation using an Ambu bag.

When the team had an early working prototype, they contacted Teknic (on a recommendation from Digi-Key, a large electronics distributor) for advice on the project’s motion control requirements. In just over two weeks, the device was brought all the way through concept, prototype, and production 

The machine, internally nicknamed “Ambu-bot” by Teknic, was not designed to replace ventilators. Rather, it was designed to automate the manual ventilation typically performed by medical personnel so that clinicians in over-stressed hospitals could treat other sick patients.

The sophisticated adjustments and sensors commonly found (and required) in conventional ventilators were excluded, in order to drastically speed up the design, prototyping, testing, and production to meet the urgent need.

The machine used one of Teknic’s ClearPath servos, but was designed for a wide range of servo or stepper motors.

While using this machine, clinicians were required to monitor patients more closely than patients on a conventional ventilator. However, this device allows a single clinician to simultaneously monitor multiple patients, opposed to one clinician manually ventilating one patient.

The machine does all of the required manual labour consistently and continuously, and a clinician can monitor multiple patients at the same time to ensure that each patient’s vitals stay in an acceptable range.

The FDA formally granted Emergency Use Authorization to Boston Scientific and the University of Minnesota, under the official name “Coventor Automatic Adult Manual Resuscitator Compressor.” Boston Scientific announced plans to initially build 3,000 units, and then more as needed.

Video overview here

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