Auburn design adapts CPAP machines into emergency ventilators

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(Michael Zabala, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and Tom Burch, lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, examine the RE-INVENT accessory that would safely repurposes a CPAP into a functional ventilator. The design for this conversion was developed by a group of Auburn engineers as a quick and inexpensive way to convert CPAP machines into ventilators, one of the most important tools hospitals have for helping COVID-19 patients.)

AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Engineers at Auburn University have found a way to help save lives as the coronavirus crisis continues. They have designed a way to turn CPAP machines into ventilators. Officials say the method is both fast and inexpensive.

The Auburn design, called RE-INVENT, is an accessory that would safely repurpose a CPAP into a functional ventilator.

Ventilators are one of the most vital pieces of medical equipment needed to treat coronavirus patients. Patients requiring respiratory assistance could die if a ventilator is not available to help them breathe. But many hospitals across the country don’t have enough of them on hand.

Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machines are commonly used to help people with obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily during sleep.

The RE-INVENT project was initiated by Tom Burch and Michael Zabala, faculty in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. Other engineering faculty and alumni helped with refining the mechanical design, control system, user interface, and alarms.

“What started as pure intellectual curiosity quickly grew into an emotional race against time to potentially save lives,” said Zabala, an assistant professor. “We wanted to know if we could design a solution to solve the ventilator shortage problem.”

The device can be assembled in as little as four hours using approximately $700 in readily available component parts in addition to a standard CPAP machine. A ventilator typical in many hospitals costs as much as $25,000, often more.

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