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Italian Engineers Create Ventilators Using Snorkelling Masks To Tackle Coronavirus

by : Cameron Frew on : 24 Mar 2020 10:45
Italian Engineers Create Ventilators Using Snorkelling Masks To Tackle CoronavirusItalian Engineers Create Ventilators Using Snorkelling Masks To Tackle CoronavirusShutterstock

With hospitals all over the world needing as much help as possible to tackle coronavirus, two Italian engineers have created an ingenious solution to the shortage of ventilators. 

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Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli work at Isinnova, a start-up engineering consultancy firm in Brescia – an Italian city that has been in lockdown for the past two weeks.

As the number cases across the country increased, the pair heard their local hospital didn’t have enough valves for its ventilator machines. They had never made such equipment before – but they wanted to help.

Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli Italian Engineers Ventilator Snorkels 5Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli Italian Engineers Ventilator Snorkels 5Shutterstock

Unfortunately, the company responsible for the valves couldn’t meet increasing demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. A company very much in its infancy, Isinnova generally makes ‘earthquake sensors, silicone bandages, bicycles… practical stuff’ – but duty called the two engineers.

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They visited to the hospital and had a look at the valve in question, ‘which connects the patient to the breathing machine, mixing pure oxygen with air that enters through a rectangular window… it looks like a chess piece waving one arm and it needs to be replaced for each patient’.

Italian Engineers Ventilator Snorkels 2Italian Engineers Ventilator Snorkels 2Shutterstock

Fracassi and Romaioli explained in a piece for The New York Times

We came back to our office and started working, fueled by adrenaline. Our first few attempts didn’t succeed, but eventually we made four copies of the prototype on a small 3D printing machine that we have in our office.

While the valve might look like a simple piece of plastic, it’s pretty complex; the hole that diffuses the oxygen is less than a millimeter in diameter. The day after, we returned to the hospital and gave our valves to a doctor who tested them. They worked and he asked for 100 more. So we went back to the office, and returned to the hospital with 100 more.

We hoped that this would last them for a few days. Still, the coronavirus rages on. A few hospitals in northern Italy asked us to make copies of the same piece. We are printing them now.

The pair are careful to note that while they appreciate people will be clambering for the specifics of their 3D model, different ventilators have varied valve requirements.

Italian Engineers Ventilator Snorkels 3Italian Engineers Ventilator Snorkels 3Shutterstock

The creativity continued, as they explained:

This sparked a second idea: to modify a snorkelling mask already on the market to create a ventilation-assisted mask for hospitals in need of additional equipment, which was successful when the hospital tested it on a patient in need.

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The engineers’ thoughts on the crisis are astute: ‘We don’t say this to brag, but to show what is possible… there are still many do-it-yourself ways of helping the people around you.’

This is a time for the world to band together.

It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization on coronavirus, click here.

Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Health, Brescia, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Italy, lockdown, Ventilators

Credits

The New York Times
  1. The New York Times

    We Made Copies of Ventilator Parts to Help Hospitals Fight Coronavirus