This is the first in a new series we are launching called Hunsung Heroes, celebrating Hun School alumni on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.
Tali Weinstein ’16 is a mechanical engineering student at Rochester Institute of Technology, where the five-year program includes spending two summers and two full semesters in a co-op program. “One of the biggest advantages this gives me as an engineering student is real engineering experience before graduation,” he explains. “While most mechanical engineering students graduate with little to no experience, RIT students graduate with one to two full years of working as a full-time mechanical engineer, which gives us a major edge when we're looking for employment post-graduation.”
Mr. Weinstein’s current co-op placement is at Teknic (a manufacturer of industrial brushless servo motors), where he works on a variety of projects to improve the manufacturing process of advanced servo motors. Until recently, his typical day included CAD design, rapid prototyping, programming, and working with various electronics. Of course, that was before COVID-19 reached the U.S. and Teknic received a call from DigiKey and Steve Richardson, MD, (a Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology Fellow at the University of Minnesota Medical School) regarding a prototype of an ambu bag robot. Not familiar with an ambu bag? They are manually operated resuscitators, used by emergency medical personnel. Since they require manual squeezing, Dr. Richardson and his team at the University of Minnesota devised a crude prototype of a motor-powered ambu bag. Enter Teknic, who got the call last Monday to provide assistance with the motor design, and the team of engineers, including Mr. Weinstein, set to work. “We got the green light to get our engineering team on the project and within 36 hours we had our own version based on their prototype,” explains Abe Amirana, director. Check out the video of the product here.
While Teknic’s motors are employed in a number of medical devices, from X-ray and CAT scan machines to prescription drug dispensers, this project really resonated with the team. “The entire mechanical engineering team worked through the weekend.It was an unbelievable team effort and our co-ops were a big part of that,” says Mr. Amirana.
The team delivered a product in a very short timeframe, and they are now waiting for FDA approval to proceed with large-scale manufacturing.
“This product is not intended to replace traditional ventilators, but if COVID-19 overwhelms the system and there is a shortage of equipment, in a worst-case scenario, hospitals will convert CPAP, BiPAP, and even anesthesia machines into makeshift ventilators and when there is nothing left, they have ambu bags,” explains Mr. Amirana. Now, once this motorized replacement is approved, medical staff will not be forced to sit at the patient’s bedside and manually operate it. It could mean the difference between life and death during an unprecedented crisis.
The team at Teknic remains hopeful. “The University of Minnesota is interacting with the FDA but we’ve been reaching out to our contacts to try to get this approved quickly,” says Mr. Amirana. “We even got a call from a White House staff member recently—that was pretty exciting.”
“The whole team here at Teknic is extremely proud of the work we have done over the last week to make this project a reality,” explains Mr. Weinstein. “Everything I do at Teknic is something that makes a big difference, whether it makes a difference in the manufacturing environment here or for our customers. This project has the potential to help many people who are in need and we all take great pride in the work we have done to make a working prototype in only a few days.”
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