Pakistani-Canadian Engineer Develops Smart Respirators for Front-line Workers

Coronavirus, also referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic, has directly impacted many globally. Throughout the world, governments and healthcare agencies have prescribed and enforced regulations for public health and safety measures. These include strict adherence to quarantine and standard operating protocols, maintaining active social distance in public spheres, reduced gatherings, and enforcing high degrees of sanitation procedures. Overall, our approach to everyday life has drastically changed, and various careers have been affected by the virus. While the nature of many careers has shifted to an online approach, the essential workers, with emphasis on healthcare providers, have maintained their proactive in-person responsibilities and duties. Examples of such, including but not limited to, are physicians, nurses, healthcare aides, and medical technicians who are of great importance and face high risk as they directly encounter the dangers of the highly infectious disease for the welfare of society at large.

To counter the risks faced by healthcare workers and aid in the fight against the pandemic, fields such as engineering can successfully undertake and occupy a key role in offering innovative answers through mechanical devices and digital technologies. Such initiatives are strongly supported and put forth by the University of Alberta’s Professor Dr. Rafiq Ahmad. 

Dr. Rafiq Ahmad (Image: Uni. of Alberta)

Dr. Rafiq Ahmad is the Principal Investigator, Director, and Founder of the Laboratory of Intelligent Manufacturing, Design and Automation (LIMDA). He hails from Swat, Pakistan originally. Dr. Rafiq has obtained his B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from KPK’s University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar, Pakistan. He has also served at CECOS University, Peshawar, Pakistan, as an Assistant Professor.

At the LIMDA Lab, situated at the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Alberta, engineers have designed an innovative personal protective respirator (PROPOS) using 3D Printing, Machining, and Injection Molding technologies. The PROPOS constitutes an ergonomic mask with hoses connected to a battery-operated fan and filter system. 

Personal Protective Respirator for Frontline Workers (PROPOS) Image: LIMDA

The device is modeled on an active air purifying mechanism developed to prevent frontline workers from contracting any possible COVID droplet. Components of the device were carefully selected, staying mindful of the long work hours many healthcare workers encounter. One such component of the device is the filter which operates to purify the air. It was chosen to improve the efficiency of the respirator as it has better particle retention and reusability. Thus it eliminates the need for disposable cartridges and enhancing the operative time of the filter. This makes it both cost-effective and efficient time-wise. 

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