Adam Powojski and Jay Alessi, two friends who met at Pratt and Whitney, combined their design and 3D printing skills to offer their help during the COVID-19 pandemic. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with them about their concept.

NAN PRICE: How and why did you come up with the idea to create ventilator parts?

ADAM POWOJSKI: It was Jay’s idea to create a “stay at home effort.” He saw the severity of the problem and he knew we both had home 3D printers, so he called me with an idea about how we could increase the capacity of our local hospital’s ventilators.

This is who we are as makers. We can’t stop trying to improve our world. This is a way for us to do our part and let hospital staff know we appreciate and support them.

JAY ALESSI: Watching the news at the end of February and early March, I saw that New York City was trying to source an additional 30,000 ventilators to handle their COVID-19 patients. I realized by the time the virus hit here in Hartford county, the big cities would have depleted the planet of ventilators, spare parts, tubing sets, and personal protective equipment (PPE). The necessary parts wouldn’t be available and we were basically going to be on our own.

I reached out to Hartford Hospital, which is my local hospital, and met with the director of biomedical engineering. I wanted to determine their needs and which parts were in short supply that they couldn’t order.

They needed three different parts, one of which was a way to service more than one patient from a ventilator. That’s where I came in to offer my design skills. I designed a production-quality 3D printable manifold to bifurcate a ventilator so it could be used with multiple patients.

NAN: Did you encounter any challenges with the design?

JAY: The biggest design challenge was that I don’t have a ventilator at home, so I was designing it based on the geometry of standard 15 millimeter medical tube fittings and then bringing Hartford Hospital a printed part to trial fit.

Another challenge was sterilization. The parts are made from PLA plastic, so they can’t be cleaned with solvents or sterilized in an autoclave. The fear is that certain cleaning chemicals and solvents might dissolve the plastic and an autoclave might melt it. I produced 10 sets for Hartford Hospital to evaluate with different sterilization techniques. Hartford Hospital concluded they have a couple of choices for sterilization, OPA for high level sterilization and simple rubbing alcohol for low level. The device can be reliably sterilized before use.

I completed the design phase in early May and began focusing on production. Hartford Hospital said, “This is perfect. Stop designing.”

NAN: What’s next?

JAY: Now that the design is finalized, we’re moving into production. Adam and I have been printing parts from home and I posted my design on Thingiverse, a well-known website for downloading 3D printing designs (Thing 4410711). That way, anyone in the world can download it for free and make their own parts.

Photo: Bifurcation manifold designed by Jay Alessi.