WSU Tri-Cities engineers aspire to create cost-efficient ventilators

KENNEWICK, Wash. — A nationwide shortage of ventilators was one of the earliest roadblocks in the battle against COVID-19. Four electrical engineers at WSU Tri-Cities are dedicating their capstone project to creating a more affordable alternative for a greater tomorrow.

The team is comprised of four students: Jeremy Dyer, Garrison Wilfert, Aaron Engebretson, and Aleksandr Arabadzhi. Each brings a unique skill set and perspective to a project that’s more prevalent now than ever.

“When they talk about shortages of ventilators in this COVID crisis at the moment, they’re not kidding. It’s an extreme expense; Especially for hospitals,” Dyer said. “The ones that are leased out to these hospitals from the U.S. Government, they’re 10, 15 years old.”

Arabadzhi agreed, adding that the shortage during a global pandemic is awful because “it’s a person’s life at stake.”

The cost of ventilators can range between $25k-$50k and in extreme cases like a pandemic, the demand can outweigh the supply. These WSU Tri-Cities students believe they can create an effective ventilator for roughly $1,000.

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Since these students are nearing the end of their college career, they’ll pass the project along to future WSU Tri-Cities students. For Wilfert, it’s about more than just the grade.

“It can definitely be more than just a grade in the class and especially if we can get this thing up out as a public resource one day, it can help a lot of people in the future,” Wilfert said.

“What we’re doing is we’re trying to develop a model, a design that covers the bare bones need that will keep life sustained,” Dyer said.

With different backgrounds and motivations, each of the team members found themselves intrigued by the challenges ahead of them. It’s an especially daunting task when considering that none of the students were taught about the specifics of ventilation during their time as an undergraduate.

Dyer describes it as a “hardcore learning curve,” which most students on their way out of college wouldn’t dare to attempt. They said each of them has put in about 160 hours of research so far to accomplish their goals.

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Two of the students worked at Cadwell Industries in Kennewick, where many of the medical supplies offered are produced. They spoke with the Quality Assurance/Regulatory Affairs team to learn about the many regulations on these devices.

From there, the team also had a chance to speak with highly-regarded respiratory therapist Robert Chatburn of the Cleveland Clinic. Chatburn ended up being an influential resource for the team as they traversed the many intricacies of their project.

“He met with us several times throughout the semester and gave us a lot of clinical knowledge,” Engebretson said.

A motivating factor in their work has been the thought of providing underprivileged countries with the resources they need to combat future viruses.

By the time they graduate from WSU Tri-Cities, the team hopes to provide a physical prototype of their part of the project. That way, the pathway is paved for the next team of engineers to complete their vision.

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