COVID-19 UpdatesHCN News & Notes

UMass Amherst Engineers Help Baystate Upgrade Control Cables, Power Systems for Ventilators

AMHERST — Engineers from UMass Amherst responded to a request from Baystate Health in Springfield for help in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by designing new, longer control cables for ventilators and the elimination of battery power sources. The design changes, developed by a team of electrical and computer engineers, allow medical personnel to control the ventilators at a distance and without using personal protection equipment, and they provide a more reliable source of power.

The UMass Amherst team includes Christopher Hollot, professor and department head at the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); Baird Soules, a senior lecturer at ECE; and Shira Epstein, a lecturer at ECE. Other contributing members are ECE alumnus Tom Kopec; undergraduate Jeremy Paradie; Scott Glorioso, president of the Battery Eliminator Store and son of former UMass ECE Professor Robert Glorioso; and Chris Denney, chief technical officer at Worthington Assembly in South Deerfield.

Hollot said these two projects were a team effort. “This engineering response spanned the greater UMass family, including alumni, undergraduate, the makerspace community, local industry, and faculty.”

Baystate Health resident physician Dr. Mat Goebel initially contacted the Electrical and Computer Engineering department to fabricate a 25-foot control cable for hospital ventilators. The existing cable length is less than 10 feet. The engineers determined that longer cables did not exist and that the original shorter cables are extremely back-ordered. They also found that a key part of the design, the connectors, is proprietary.

They modified an old control cable from Baystate to analyze the signaling and determined that a longer cable was theoretically viable. The team then fabricated a 50-foot cable that was successfully tested on one of Baystate’s ventilators for empirical validation.

The team then tracked down the control cable manufacturer, Amphenol Sine Systems. At the request of the UMass Amherst researchers, the company agreed to design and fabricate these longer control cables. Baystate is now ordering the longer cables directly from the manufacturer.

Goebel and Kyle Walsh, respiratory specialist in Clinical Engineering at Baystate Health, also requested a design to allow portable ventilators to run on ordinary electrical power from a wall socket. The portable ventilators are designed to run on two D batteries with a lifespan of 48 hours. In a clinical setting, a wall-power solution removes the need for checking and replacing batteries every two days.

The UMass team solved the problem using a commercial off-the-shelf battery eliminator. They ordered a suitable battery eliminator and successfully tested it on a portable ventilator at Baystate. Subsequently, Baystate ordered 50 of these power supplies directly from the Battery Eliminator Store.