While the current COVID-19 situation we are all mired in is medical in nature, different specialists, industries, and entities have come out to lend a hand, proving that there are many ways to help. University of the Philippines-Diliman’s College of Engineering (CoE) have recently made public their own initiatives that could help out our healthcare workers and contain the virus.
In a community bulletin posted on its Facebook page last Monday, the CoE laid out five projects they are currently working on to aid in the coronavirus efforts. These include the use of 3-D printers as well as plasma and UV light disinfection.
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To the college’s dean, Ferdinand Manegdeg, these efforts are not being put together just to heed a call, they are merely a reflection of who they are. “The college of engineering should provide solutions for the community. Remember we are a public institution,” he says, adding he and the other professors and officials of the CoE met weeks ago to brainstorm these initiatives. “Kami po ay para sa bayan. So lahat po ng mga solutions namin should be for what is needed by the country.”
While these efforts are being led by CoE, the dean shares that they chose to make it public in order to ask for support, primarily in funding. “Nung nakita namin na kailangan namin ng tulong, kailangan na namin i-out ito para may makakatulong,” he says.
3-D printing solutions
Expectedly, focus has been put on healthcare workers interacting with infected patients. A lot of talk has been about these workers’ personal protective equipment (or PPE) and, more importantly and alarmingly, the lack thereof. The CoE’s proposed solution? 3-D printers.
Manegdeg says that PPEs, particularly the face shield frames, can be created using 3-D printers, and, as such, they are pooling as many units of this equipment as possible. “The idea is to put our 3-D printers in one laboratory, and run it up eight hours a day, and print the frame of the face shield,” the Dean says. “We will have to redesign it so that it will optimize and maximize the materials that we have right now. And then we will put an acetate on it."
The location for this 3-D printer center will be at UP Diliman’s Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (EEEI). Their goal is to print at least 100 face shields a day, a number that is doable given 15 working 3-D printers. Right now, they have 10, which were pooled from the UP community as well as partners like Metatech Lab.
Regardless if they get 15, Dean Manegdeg says that they will already be setting up at the EEEI by today. What they need right now, apart from the printers would be the consumables, or the material used to print. “What we are doing now is that we are asking some owners if they have some unused consumables, to either donate or sell it to us so we can use it,” he says.
Disinfection and decontamination
As mentioned, PPEs are all in scarce supply. Manufacturing new PPEs is one answer to the problem, but the CoE is also figuring out a way to safely reuse N95 medical masks and the like, which are all currently for one-time use. The college’s solution is a cleansing chamber that primarily works with ultraviolet light exposure.
Right now, the College is working on a prototype for this, and if they are successful, PPEs can be recycled and reissued. “The important parameters here are the temperature, the time, and the capacity.” The college says it needs PHP 600,000 and one month to complete the prototype.
Similarly, plasma cleaning is being explored by the CoE in order to disinfect and decontaminate frequently touched surfaces. The CoE is looking to create a prototype plasma treatment apparatus that can be used on the likes of hospital walls, emergency rooms, walkways, and air filters. Dean Manegdeg says the plasma cleaning project is still in the experimentation phase and would need more time as they are working with high temperatures. We have to make sure na hindi nasusunog yung mga kagamitan,” he explains. This initiative is being done in collaboration with the UP Manila College of Medicine and the Philippine General Hospital, and is need of at least PHP 70,000 a month.
Support and tracking
The CoE is also currently working on two other prototypes.
One is on an adult ventilator, which is crucial since those infected become hard of breathing. Previously, a neonatal ventilator was developed in the CoE's lab which has since become commercially available. The same team who worked on the neonatal ventillator will work on the adult version. “Obviously, we cannot use that for adults,” he says. “We are going to change the pressure, come up with a different set up for that. And hopefully we will be able to come up with a protoype in a month.” These ventilators, the dean says, are also hard to come by now even at other parts of the world. They would need PHP 500,000 to finish the prototype.
Another initiative will work on tracking high risk individuals. Working with telcos like Globe and Smart and the Department of Transportation, the CoE intends to work on a tracker that would monitoring the location and movement of persons under investigation (PUI).
“We will be using geographic information system (GIS) to that, and we need the cooperation of telcos,” Manegdeg says, adding that they intend also to talk to the Department of Health. “We already talked to them and they said it’s okay.” The Dean is also quick to point that, in the course of development and implementation, they will be careful to ensure that offenses against the data privacy act will not be committed. The prototype for the project will take one month to complete, and will need PHP 300,000.
Apart from financial support, the College of Engineering is also open to receiving proposals and ideas that they can analyze and vet. Dean Manegdeg says that while they have only announced the five initiatives, they are currently working on testing and vetting other projects in connection with COVID-19.
And these solutions are meant to extend beyond the effects of the pandemic into something long-term. But the more pressing goal is to address the current COVID-10 needs. Once done and certified by governing bodies, they plan to disseminate immediately. The idea is to not stop until the country can stand up once again. “We’ll just keep on working,” Dean Manegdeg says. “We fight as one.”
For those who wish to donate cash or resources, or suggestions or inquries, email Dr. Eden May dela Peña, Associate Dean for Public Service at email@example.com.