Non-destructive testing provider contributes to consortium for ventilator production

First marketed in 1957, Bird Mark 7 returns as open-source ventilator solution

By Kevin Parker April 29, 2020

When the employees of Waygate Technologies, a Baker Hughes business, first heard about an opportunity to help reverse-engineer an out-of-patent, proven life saver that is needed globally, immediately and in considerable quantities, they were eager to lend a hand.

Formerly known as GE Inspection Technologies, Waygate Technologies is expert in non-destructive technologies, including applications of industrial radiography and CT, industrial ultrasound, remote visual inspection and eddy current inspection.

The Bird Mark 7 ventilator was first introduced in 1957 by Dr. Forrest M. Bird, an American aviator, inventor and biomedical engineer. He is best known for having created some of the first reliable mass-produced mechanical ventilators for acute and chronic cardiopulmonary care.

These included the Mark 7, whose signature green casing was a feature of the 1960s hospital scene. It was considered a reliable, safe and effective application for patients with respiratory problems, i.e., those whose lungs needed help to stay inflated. It was manufactured well into the 1980s and can still be found in hospitals around the world.

Can-do spirit

The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI), UC Davis and Livermore Instruments have partnered to rapidly redesign the Mark 7 to include simplified supply chain components and to mass produce a modern version that adds critical features.

David Fergenson, CEO of mass spectrometer manufacturer Livermore Instruments, Oakland, CA, said the goal is to help meet global demand for ventilators through an open-source specification for production of the updated Mark 7.

“When we got into the Bird Mark 7, we realized it could be made on a massive scale in a way that the more modern ventilators just can’t. We need to respond to this opportunity and get this redesigned ventilator into the hands of our health care practitioners immediately. We welcome colleagues to join us to make this happen,” Fergenson said.

Through publicizing their project and its aims, Livermore Instruments was put in touch with 3D Systems, an innovator of 3D printing that provides digital manufacturing solutions worldwide.

Collaboration amidst crisis

“One of the biggest advantages of this ventilator is that it doesn’t require a power source. This is extremely valuable for COVID-19 response efforts in emerging territories. Healthcare professionals will be able to provide valuable care, even in areas where infrastructure may not be present,” said Scott Green, director of product management, software at 3D Systems.

3D Systems, Rock Hill, S.C., engineers, manufactures and sells 3D printers. Chuck Hull, the CTO and former president, invented stereolithography in 1986. Stereolithography is a form of 3D printing technology used for creating models, prototypes, patterns and production parts in a layer-by-layer fashion using photochemical processes by which light causes chemical monomers and oligomers to cross-link together to form polymers.

The overarching need is to produce hundreds of thousands of these already FDA-approved devices, for use throughout the world, including in the U.S. where the Coronavirus caseload is overwhelming hospitals in cities such as New York.

Design references for the Mark 7 existed, but, “from a manufacturing perspective, parts designed and built before the digital age may not be completely represented in the available source documentation,” 3D Systems’ Green said.

In other words, the trusted, working parts of Mark 7 machines still in circulation may not reflect the original design specifications.

Manifold mystery

The exact form of the production-version manifold, a critical and complex part at the heart of the ventilator — was a mystery. Livermore engineers could not see inside the die-cast aluminum part to verify and replicate its specifications and construction.

3D Systems had recently formed an association — signed a memorandum of understanding and developed working relationships — with Waygate Technologies, known for, amongst other things, developing equipment that produces high-quality computed tomography (CT) scans of industrial parts, such as the turbine blades in jet engines.

Tomography is a method for producing three-dimensional images of the internal structures of a solid object by observing and recording the differences in the effects on the passage of waves of energy impinging on those structures.

on Friday a couple of weeks ago,” recalled Shana Telesz, performance leader for Waygate’s customer solutions centers. “He told us what Livermore needed.”

Telesz greenlighted the project immediately and waited to receive details of what was required, as well as an example of the part itself.

That Sunday, Telesz was discussing COVID work arrangements with one of her engineers, Brandon Miller, who had self-isolated to protect his team because his girlfriend, Lindsey Mueller, an ICU nurse pursuing a doctorate in nursing practice in adult acute care had volunteered to join the Coronavirus unit at her hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. Miller, now working from home, was ultra-eager “to be part of the solution” to COVID, said Telesz, who suggested he start by steering the response to 3D Systems.

Overnight Waygate received the complex central part of the ventilator from Livermore, and by the time Telesz caught up with the project at the end of that day, scans had been sent to 3D Systems, after the data had been refined by Waygate’s Bill Hayes working the scanner, in collaboration with Miller contributing from home.

“The system our team used on this job,” said Telesz, “has one of the features unique to Waygate equipment, called scatter|correct.” This technology “detects and eliminates” the scatter radiation generated when scanning metal parts, which can blur the edges of the 3D image.

“The whole Waygate technology suite is ideal for producing clean, high-quality data on a challenging part,” said Green. He also praised the Waygate team for being “available, flexible and communicative.”

High resolution mesh model

The high-resolution mesh model — a method of representing 3D objects using polygonal shapes to define their planes, curves and edges — delivered by Waygate Technologies was critical to the subsequent online publication by Livermore of an open-source engineering package in easy-to-read STP-File format suitable for manufacturing the Bird Mark 7. Manufacturers in different localities can apply the specifications to whatever methods they have to hand — the manifold, for example, could be die cast, sand cast or 3D printed.

Waygate will also contribute to testing parts for an updated design of the life-saving ventilator. Having published the open-source instructions for the latest in-use Mark 7, the consortium (which includes the US National Strategic Research Institute in Nebraska, and UC Davis College of Engineering), coordinated by Livermore Instruments, is now working to rapidly streamline the ventilator design for contemporary mass production by minimizing the number of component parts and optimizing for those that are easiest to make or source.

When the modified prototype has been validated, Livermore will commence mass production of the new MARK-19, as it has been named, and simultaneously disclose its design and processes to the world — to encourage competition. Livermore Instruments and its MARK-19 consortium partners plan to begin shipping units on June 1 at a rate of 10,000 per week, and at an initial cost of $700 per unit.

In the meantime, Miller has been contacting other companies to help them understand how Waygate capabilities can contribute to producing products and equipment crucial to the cause of helping people affected by COVID-19, with the aim of helping to lighten the load on hospitals and responding organizations.

“A lot of people who have never manufactured before are stepping into that role — we can scan for quality control,” suggested Telesz. “There may be more safe, reliable older products that people are trying to reverse engineer for mass production — we can help to precisely map the structure of parts for that equipment.”

Kevin Parker is editor of Plant Engineering magazine.

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Author Bio: Senior contributing editor, CFE Media