Inside INdiana Business

Trine teams developing PPE alternatives

The team is developing a machine that can operate an Ambu bag as an emergency ventilator. (photo courtesy of Trine University)

ANGOLA, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A group of faculty and staff members from Trine University in Angola are working to fill a need for personal protective equipment in the fight against COVID-19. The university says the teams are developing devices that can provide alternatives to certain equipment which are in limited supply such as ventilators.

The university says one team of engineers has developed a machine to automatically pump a manual resuscitator, also known as an Ambu bag, that can serve as a replacement for a ventilator as needed. Another team is working on prototypes for a hard shell mask with a replaceable respirator filter.

The effort is being done in partnership with Fort Wayne-based Parkview Health. Jason Blume, executive director of Trine Innovation 1, says the health system has put together a team of innovators, of which the Trine engineers are a part.

“The faculty who are helping us are teaching full-time in a new environment transitioning to an online format,” said Blume. “They’re adding more to their already full-time workload because they know that their skill and ability can make an impact. This is engineering problem-solving at its finest. Under different circumstances, this would probably be one of the most fun and dynamic projects I have worked on. It is still fun and dynamic, but the stakes are much higher.”

Trine says the machine that could perform compressions on an Ambu bag is now in its fifth iteration and was developed with components that could be easily manufactured by vendors in the region. The team plans to begin testing the machine with an artificial lung this week.

The team working on the respirator mask is currently 3-D printing prototypes and also plans to begin testing this week to ensure the masks will seal well and are comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Trine says the team will also test alternative filters due to the filter material needed for N95 masks being in short supply.

Blume says Parkview plans to contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to see if the projects can be fast tracked into production once they have validated the work of the Trine teams. 

“We don’t anticipate slowing down,” he said. “We’re going to continue seeing where we can help and leverage what resources we have in any way that we can.”