UTC professor Erkan Kaplanoglu and two engineering students are in a global competition to develop a ventilator for patients with COVID-19-related lung injuries.

With the race on to close the gap between demand and supply of ventilators for COVID-19 patients around the world, expertise from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has jumped into a competition to design a game-changer.

The “CoVent-19 Challenge,” launched on April 1, is hosted by medical residents in anesthesia at prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The goal, according to organizers, is a design for a rapidly deployable, minimum-viable mechanical ventilator for patients with COVID-19-related ventilator-dependent lung injury—”particularly for areas where standard mechanical ventilators may be hard to obtain.”

UTC’s Erkan Kaplanoglu saw the challenge as an opportunity to share ideas, collaborate with other experts and be part of innovation that could meet a critical global need. Kaplanoglu, an associate professor of mechatronics in the Department of Engineering Management and Technology in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, has two UTC engineering undergraduates as partners in the CoVent-19 Challenge. Kalen Berry is majoring in mechatronics and Sertac Tuna is a mechanical engineering major.

“I have been working on the design and implementation of prostheses and rehabilitation robotics for health care for 10 years,” Kaplanoglu said. “I have a lab—the BioAsTLab—at UTC where I do these studies.

“When I heard about the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought I had to do something about it using my experiences. While doing the research for helping health professionals, a friend who is a surgeon from Boston told me about the ‘CoVent-19 Challenge,’ and I found myself in the challenge.”

Kaplanoglu praised his student teammates, Berry and Tuna, for taking on the challenge even as they continue their spring semester course work.

On May 1, the four-week, design-focused general entry round ends and organizers hope to finalize computer-aided design, or CAD, assemblies. Up to 20 finalists will be selected for the four-week, invitation-only round to test and develop functional prototypes by May 27.

“We know that we compete with time, so we immediately got to work and realized our first design in a week in the BioAsTLab,” Kaplanoglu said.

He describes the virtual meetings he has had thus far with the physician evaluators on the CoVent-19 team as productive, and he’s optimistic about his team’s chances.

“They liked our concept to design a rapidly deployable mechanical ventilator and explained some specifications and constraints, and we will improve our design based on those specifications,” he said.

The CoVent-19 Challenge is sponsored backed by Stratasys Ltd.—which describes itself as a global leader in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing technology—and Ximedica, a medical device company in business for more than 30 years.

Stratasys manufactures 3D printers and has made its online collaboration platform, GrabCAD.com, available to competitors hoping to produce the winning design.

Stratasys will provide the top three winners with a total of $10,000 in credits to be used for 3D-printed parts. Evaluation is based on the design and prototype meeting system requirements; the manufacturing complexity; device functionality; and likelihood of success.

The Challenge team also is working with private and public-sector partners to expedite U.S. government approval of a winning design. The team has secured regulatory and safety testing experts to ensure products meet U.S. and international standards.



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