Open Source Ventilators Helped by Electronic Design Software [Share Your Story]
Staff posted on May 27, 2020 |
Altium used by 3,000 volunteer group to quicken ventilator design.

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(Image courtesy of Open Source Ventilator.)
(Image courtesy of Open Source Ventilator Project.)

As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, countless individuals have stepped up to help embattled healthcare workers and patients everywhere.

In the early days of the pandemic, the first major challenge facing nations was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. The former helps safeguard hospital personnel from potential contamination; the latter are necessary to keep the most critically ill patients breathing once the virus attacks their respiratory systems.

Ventilators are traditionally large and very costly devices; smaller ventilators—known as field emergency ventilators (FEVs) have been used in emergency settings, including combat missions and in Third World nations for decades to help keep patients alive as they await transport to hospitals for intubation.

The Open Source Ventilator Project (OSV), a global coalition of electrical and mechanical engineers, graphic designers and medical device companies, banded together in early March to create low-cost FEVs using 3D printing techniques.

The Ireland-based group put out a global call for help immediately; word spread throughout the global engineering community and by mid-March, they had over 300 volunteers. By March’s end, the OSV Project had over 3,000 volunteers, working virtually from almost everywhere in the world. One of the early volunteers was Velocity Research, a small electrical engineering and firmware company based in Michigan, helmed by Founder and CEO Dugan Karnazes. Karnazes was able to leverage his experience with Altium Designer, Altum’s flagship PCB design software tool, to find the perfect team to develop the electronic components in the FEVs.

While it was important to have a team with a diverse set of skills, knowledge of Altium Designer was particularly vital to Karnazes as he assembled the Velocity Team.

The addition of Altium 365 made co-designing and collaboration effortless. The cloud-based platform that works seamlessly with Altium Designer to empower design sharing and collaboration with anyone, wherever they are, in whatever time zone, at any company, as designs evolve.

As Karnazes explains, “When you have 3,000 people working on a project, labor and software is unlimited; the only limitation is time. We needed close collaboration with this many people, working from all over the world, all working from home, and Altium 365 helped pull everyone together.”

Getting a team of 40 electrical and mechanical engineers on the same page was easy with Altium Designer and Altium 365; each team member received an email with log in information to access the server Karnazes created for the project with ease.

Karnazes was able to provide the team with necessary documentation and instructions from inside the Altium 365 platform directly, eliminating the need for time-consuming individual emails.

Reducing all the exporting and emailing documentation that normally hampers project development helped ensure that the team worked quickly and concisely. And all Doug Karnazes had to do was send out a simple instruction email—he never had to send a single .pdf during the entire development cycle.

Altium 365 also helped illuminate different aspects of the project to everyone involved, which was exceptionally valuable for a team with such diverse backgrounds. “Co-designing with firmware, knowing the UI board in a broader sense, the pin design, how it fits into the mechanical design—it’s all easy because it’s all right there and everyone can see how it all works together,” Karnazes elaborates.

The platform made it equally easy for Team Velocity members to learn aspects of PCB design that may have been previously unknown. Version control, in particular, was quickly adopted, allowing different team members to make changes inside Altium 365 without compromising design documentation.

Karnazes sums up it up nicely; “Giving my team members access versus giving them export has been really essential to the success of this project.” 

With the ability to work together in real-time, the Velocity Team designed four FSV prototypes in mere weeks, using just one 3D printed component to allow for easy mass production.

After a successful medical assessment on the suitability of fitness from Spectrum Health, the ventilators are ready to go into production. By aligning with manufacturing companies, Team Velocity are producing 500 ventilators every week for deployment throughout South America, Africa and other places in immediate need.

To further the process along for domestic use, Karnazes has partnered with Boston Scientific, Ford and GM to fast-track FDA approval for use in the United States. Velocity Research have closed their offices in accordance with stay-in-place guidelines issued by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and have devoted all of their efforts to develop FSVs and more.

As the team awaits approval for U.S. use, Team Velocity continues to work together to create essential PPE items, including over 30,000 face shields and masks that have already been donated worldwide.

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