Ireland’s engineers play a pivotal role in public health and innovation and behind every design-led engineering solution are communities and families that benefit.
“Engineering is integral to modern life,” commented Caroline Spillane, Director General of Engineers Ireland. “The challenges we face as a society will all require and benefit from engineering innovation. From the role our Chartered Engineer of the Year Donal Kelly has played in delivering transport solutions in London; to the delivery of critical infrastructure and most recently the role engineers have played to support communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges for our economy and society, impacting the way we live, work, learn and interact. In response, over these past eight months, engineers from across Ireland have come together to drive solutions through the delivery and development of medical supplies, including essential PPE, and other new innovations to support healthcare workers and the wider community. In association with ESB, we are pleased to recognise the contribution and response of Ireland’s engineers to the COVID-19 pandemic through our new 2020 Engineering Excellence Digital Series,” Ms Spillane added.
Today, we recognise the winners and those who achieved highly commended status in the Contribution of Engineering to the COVID-19 response category, which forms part of our new Engineering Excellence Digital Series, held in association with ESB and supported by Accenture and Geoscience Ireland.
I-Form's Rapid Response Manufacturing Hub
In March 2020, as Ireland went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) was beginning to impact front-line workers in the Irish health service. In response, researchers at I-Form, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Manufacturing, used their engineering expertise in additive manufacturing – also known as 3D printing – to provide essential PPE to frontline staff, and to support other aspects of the health service.
Under I-Form Director Professor Denis Dowling at UCD and I-Form Deputy Director Professor Dermot Brabazon at DCU, the I-Form team, which is based across the seven third-level institutes of UCD, DCU, TCD, WIT, NUIG, IT Sligo and NUI Maynooth, worked around the clock to 3D-print 5,000 face shields for doctors, nurses, and care-home workers across Ireland. Researchers used their engineering skills to develop a process flow that maximised throughput across the available bank of 3D printers, while ensuring repeatable quality.
Face shields were distributed initially to local hospitals and then to hospitals further afield, as well as to HSE COVID-19 testing centres, nursing homes, community healthcare facilities and GP practices. Face shields were also sent overseas to a mission hospital in Tanzania, and knowledge and expertise were shared with researchers in Namibia. A heavy-duty version of the visor, more suited to outdoor use, was also produced using laser cutting, with several hundred supplied to ambulance services personnel.
Alongside requests for face shields, the team also received calls from doctors and ICU staff concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19 on their supply chain for ventilation and respiratory equipment. Using their 3D printing expertise, I-Form researchers addressed this clinical need and collaborated with hospitals in Cavan, Sligo and Galway to produce 3D-printed ventilator parts and alternative breathing devices for use in the event of a total supply chain collapse.
The COVID Alliance – How Ireland’s Engineers rallied to the COVID emergency
Established in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the COVID Alliance comprises of over 50 project partners from key Irish engineering and manufacturing sectors who came together to volunteer their services to the Health Service Executive (HSE).
This informal grouping of organisations who provided services primarily on a pro bono basis was organised into a series of volunteer work streams, all of which were focused on meeting the needs of the crisis.
With each project partner aligned to a work stream based on their specific capabilities, the Alliance’s expertise was central to the development of a number of healthcare supports and initiatives. This included a review of medical gas infrastructure in more than 30 of the country’s acute hospitals, and subsequent capacity delivery projects, such as servicing the Citywest stepdown facility with medical gas infrastructure and upgrades to five hospitals to increase or de-bottleneck oxygen supplies and medical air systems.
With a diverse project team, the Alliance has also enabled the servicing of temporary clinical facilities, including the design of temporary reception wards for county hospitals.
The Alliance was also central to the scaling up of the reagent supply chain to address shortages that were impacting national testing capabilities, commercialisation support of a rapid home-testing system and the design of locally produced goggles for medical personnel, for which an order for over a million units is in process with the HSE.
Low Cost Emergency Ventilator by Malone Group Project Partners, Irish Manufacturing Research Institute (MIR) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT)
The Low-Cost Emergency Ventilator project started on 13 March 2020 following a national call to action to develop a low-cost ventilator that could be produced to support the COVID-19 crisis. Malone Group, in collaboration with IMR, accepted the challenge.
Over a 13-week period, the project partners assembled a team consisting of three different entities located in ten different locations with the common purpose of developing a low-cost ventilator.
In the initial stages of development, the team identified in the call to action noted that any design produced must not draw on the same supply lines as the established ventilator manufacturers. Following evaluation and selecting a basic design to take forward for detailed design and prototyping of the ventilator, the team collaborated with leading MIT academics in the development of a functioning low-cost ventilator. Following mechanical design iteration and sharing of basic design function PLC programming, the team built, developed and tested three prototype iterations of the ventilator. The design is now ready for the team to engage with a contract manufacturer.
Open Source Ventilator & Team OSV, founded by Dr. Colin Keogh, Conall Laverty and David Pollard
The Open Source Ventilator Ireland group was established in mid-March 2020, initially with the goal of building a focused team in Ireland to begin development on what was termed the ‘Field Emergency Ventilator’. Founded by Dr. Colin Keogh, Conall Laverty and David Pollard, a core team of volunteers assembled remotely to start rapidly building open-source interventions.
Over a matter of days, the world took notice of their efforts, and a huge volume of volunteers (5,000+ people) joined OSV and the fight against Covid. Due to increasing needs and shortages, OSV was reformed as TeamOSV, to expand and adapt to a range of other equipment needs including PPE, Face Shields & Educational Guides.
TeamOSV became a multidisciplinary team (3,000+, 55+ Countries) of engineers, designers, makers, and medics working on developing novel low-resource interventions through online open collaboration. As one of the largest Open Source hardware projects ever created, this method of collaboration shows the huge potential for opensource projects to contribute to the highest levels of science. For more information, visit: www.TeamOSV.com
Robotic Room Disinfection Using UV Germicidal Irradiation by Akara Robotics, in partnership with Trinity College Dublin, and with support from the HSE, Midlands Regional Hospital Tullamore and Intel.
The Robotic Room Disinfection Using UV Germicidal Irradiation project by Akara Robotics is a mobile UV disinfection robot combined with AI software that enables it to optimally disinfect a room. Named ‘Violet’, the system can be deployed in a number of environments including hospitals, nursing homes, airports and offices where it can autonomously navigate and disinfect areas within the room. The system uses UV-C light which has been scientifically proven to inactivate a wide range of microorganisms, including SARS-CoV-2.
Developed by Akara, a recent Trinity College spin-out, Violet has also been trialled successfully at Midlands Regional Hospital Tullamore since April 2020, with scientific validation of the technology conducted by researchers at Trinity College. Preliminary hospital testing has indicated that Violet could reduce the time to disinfect critical frontline Radiology facilities like CT scan rooms from 30-60 mins to less than 15 mins while improving the quality of disinfection.
To view the six part Engineering Excellence Digital Series, held in association with ESB and supported by Accenture and Geoscience Ireland, visit: www.engineersireland.ie