APRIL 2020

Activities at Leitat

Leitat was founded in 1906 and aims to use technology to create sustainable value for companies and entities through research and technology processes. The LEITAT 1 emergency ventilator has been developed and functioned correctly in the first tests carried out with patients in the ICU of the Hospital Parc Taulí. The design is the result of an alliance between the Consorci de la Zona Franca de Barcelona (CZFB), HP and Leitat (Tecnio) together with CatSalut, through the Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa (CST) and the Hospital Parc Taulí in Sabadell. The first tests were carried out on a patient affected by the COVID-19 virus at the Hospital Parc Taulí and will be imminently expanded to several other hospitals in Catalonia. With the approval of the Spanish Medicines Agency, the current objective is to accelerate the production and distribution of the ventilator before the collapse of medical emergencies.

The ventilator, designed by Leitat’s senior engineer, Mr. Magí Galindo. It has been improved from the initial prototype through the incorporation of volumetric sensors, pressure sensors or oxygen alarms, among other aspects, to facilitate its use by healthcare personnel and guarantee its functionality for a longer period of time in assisted breathing of severe patients with coronavirus. 

It is a robust and compact ventilator designed to be industrially scalable, so that a daily production of 50 units can be achieved, at a cost 10 times less than that of a conventional ventilator.

The LEITAT 1 ventilator (@respira_leitatX) has received various contributions from both individuals and companies and its promoters are coordinating different collaborations with other similar projects both national and international.

Activities at TWI

New WAITRO member The Welding Institute (TWI) is itself a membership-based organization, historically descended from the British Welding Research Association (BWRA), which now supports both individuals and companies. It has grown into a major independent research and technology organization, spanning innovation, knowledge transfer and problem resolution across all aspects of welding, joining, surface engineering, inspection, and whole-life integrity management.

TWI has been supporting the effort of UK industry to provide the National Health Service with the products needed in the fight against COVID-19, including ventilators, hand sanitizer and facemasks. The current crisis has seen some unprecedented changes, including a re-evaluation of the balance between conventional testing and validation processes vs. the consequences of having no safety product available. This has resulted in a code exemption for applicable products (dramatically reducing the level of testing required). However, it remains critical that products made available are both safe and effective.

Facemasks present a particular challenge. As a low cost, high volume disposable item, they require simple but effective design and compatibility with high volume manufacturing techniques. The challenge comes with the need to expand production beyond existing facilities; this either means changing design and materials to suit the available equipment set or bringing in new equipment, with a consequent need for a very rapid ramp-up in understanding of unfamiliar processes.

Industry is running with both approaches in parallel and TWI is providing technical support to enable this effort. Conventional manufacturing of facemasks uses solid-state welding of polymers, a technology where Principal Project Leader Scott Andrews has been providing training to industry for over 25 years. Scott is now using this expertise to help industry ramp up its level of expertise in preparation for deployment.

The alternative approach is to develop innovative new products which are designed to be rapidly scaled up for manufacture on existing equipment sets, often outside of conventional medical device manufacturing. This approach presents a number of challenges. Firstly, the design has to be validated; Tyler London, who leads TWI’s modelling and simulation group, has been working with Respolab Ltd on Teesside to validate their design, which was produced in only six days. This process, which would normally take many months, has been dramatically reduced to only a few weeks through a combination of advanced flow modelling using simulation software and targeted validation through physical testing at TWI’s laboratories in Cambridge. Flow simulations for inhale/exhale flow rates are being modelled and TWI is using computational fluid dynamics and analysis to show that code exemption can be justified on the basis of numerical results. This will eliminate the delay in transition to mass production (provided the code compliant tests are undertaken in due course), reducing the total time from conception to production to under a month.

Parallel activity has seen designs which incorporate laser cut components. Ali Khan of TWI’s laser group has been coordinating links between the medical design companies and facilities for laser cutting polymers, drawing on TWI’s long-standing links with manufacturing industry, including its membership of the Association of Industrial Laser Users.

Activties at AINIA

The new WAITRO member AINIA is a technology centre established in 1987 as a non-profit organization. With more than 25 years of experience in research, development and innovation, AINIA works to motivate the competitiveness of companies through innovation. AINIA is one of the European Technology Centres with the largest corporate social system with more than 700 associated companies and 1,300 clients.

Given their extensive work experience in food safety, AINIA has developped a manual for the food industry that is intended to provide the tools to adopt measures with the following three objectives:

1.  Ensure the supply of food to our customers and thus to the population, in a complex working environment, defined by unusual and demanding conditions.
2.  Ensure the food safety of our products. Maintain food safety standards at least the same level as usual, and avoid COVID19 contact with food, even if there is no evidence that food is being a transmission vehicle. Let us remember that it is the operator’s responsibility to ensure the food security of products made available to the consumer.
3.  Safeguard the health of the company’s workers. In this sense, workers who are not in processing plants apply the same as those in other sectors (generally services), so we will emphasize in this manual what is about plant staff or who might have access to it.