Staff Sgt. Neekia Williams, 52nd Medical Group biomedical equipment technician, inspects a ventilator at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, April 1. Williams ensures ventilators are working properly if needed for COVID-19 care. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Melody W. Howley)

AFRL addresses potential ventilator shortages in tech sprint

During a six-day technology sprint, a team of engineers, scientists and medical researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory explored ways to address a potential shortage of ventilators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event, hosted virtually by the Wright Brothers Institute, stemmed from a request made by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. As COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, the Department of Defense executed various support efforts pertaining to the production of low-cost ventilators.

“Typically, we come to WBI with the problem and lean on their rapid innovation expertise to facilitate a tech sprint,” said Michael Moulton, a project lead in AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing. “In this case, OSD approached WBI, and then we joined in as the subject matter experts.”

AFRAMP enables rapid U.S.-based production of PPE, medical supplies

A tech sprint is a focused effort that pulls together various disciplines to tackle a specific problem, explained Moulton. “When organizing them, we like to include as many people as possible because everyone has a different piece of the often cross-disciplinary puzzle.”

Moulton and Chris Dooley, a 711 HPW biomedical engineer, led the team in performing market research, studying the pros and cons of various ventilator designs, collecting user surveys, and consulting with healthcare providers to identify the components of useful ventilators. AFRL experts from the 711 HPW’s Airman Systems Directorate and the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, as well as those from the lab’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate participated in the event.

After the tech sprint, the team prepared white papers regarding heating, ventilation, air conditioning requirements, oxygen demand levels and personal protective equipment shortages in hospitals and medical facilities. The AFRL team also submitted a design concept to the Defense Health Agency that identifies an optimal sensor package for mechanical ventilators.

AFRL viewed this particular request as an opportunity to assist the medical community during the pandemic and explore viable contingency plans.

“We were excited and proud to be part of this sprint searching for quick solutions to assist medical providers in fighting COVID-19,” said Moulton.

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