CCAD Alumni Lead Manufacturing of Ventilator During Shortage

How do NASA and two Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) alumni take on a pandemic? They design then manufacture a ventilator.

COVID-19 damages the air sacs of the lungs and as the infection spreads, the number of healthy air sacs declines and the exchange of gases diminishes. A patient with the disease whose lung function dramatically declines can develop ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) quickly. That’s when a physician will put the patient on a high-pressure ventilator.

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, it was abundantly clear to most authorities that the United States soon would have a ventilator shortage, reported the New England Journal of Medicine. Many hospitals, particularly in hotspots, would not be adequately prepared to treat patients with the often deadly coronavirus.

Once the news became known, it drove a frenzy of creativity and collaboration between scientists, industrial designers, health-care professionals, hospitals, universities, businesses, and government entities to design affordable ventilators to be used for COVID-19 patients in both regular and field hospitals. One great example of this comes from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Its COVID-19 ventilator prototype was created by JPL engineers in just 27 days and received an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

Named VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), the high-pressure ventilator would deliver oxygen and help COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe. The pared-down design version uses fewer parts, and those parts are widely available in the U.S. supply chain. VITAL can be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator. Its flexible design means it also can be modified for use in field hospitals.

JPL, which is managed by Caltech for NASA, recently selected eight U.S. manufacturers out of 100 applicants to make new ventilators from the VITAL technology. One of those companies, Evo Design, has two Columbus College of Art & Design graduates in leadership roles.

Aaron Szymanski (Industrial Design, 1991) is Evo Design’s Co-founder and President. Started in 1997, the design and engineering studio has locations in Watertown, Connecticut; Newark, Ohio; and Ningbo, China.

“NASA has been on our prospective client list since we started Evo 23 years ago. Being selected as one of eight companies is an honor and shows the hard work of our longstanding team,” says Szymanski. “We are looking forward to rapidly bringing this innovative and affordable lifesaving technology to organizations and people in need.”

Taylor Downes (Industrial Design, 2007) is Vice President at Evo Design and works out of its Newark office. (You may remember her from CCAD’s Show Us Your Space feature from 2018 or the 2017 Women in Design panel discussion.)

Downes is responsible for leading all business development and managing major accounts for Evo Design. She credits her degree in Industrial Design from CCAD for helping Evo Design’s clients understand through the design and manufacturing processes and ensuring their wants and needs are being met by the firm’s designers and engineers.

“I really love working here because we work really hard to get projects that our team is interested in,” Downes said. “Our engineers wanted to work on the VITAL project as soon as they saw NASA JPL’s call for license applications online.”

A few weeks after JPL’s early June announcement of the licensing, EVO Design received the VITAL plans. Following NASA’s engineering, the firm will begin to design and build a prototype, testing it at Yale University. The company would then work with their partner Bio-Med Devices Inc. to begin manufacturing the COVID-19 ventilator upon FDA approval.

“Following product testing, our goal is to be in production by the end of the year,” Downes said.