UWTSD team who developed respiratory support system to help fight against Covid 19 are shortlisted for this year’s St David Awards

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A team of engineers from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David who developed a 3D-printed jet respiratory support system to help the NHS in the fight against Covid 19 have been shortlisted for a St David Award under the Innovation, Science and Technology category.

The awards, which are celebrating their ninth year in 2022, recognise the extraordinary achievements of people from across Wales.

In May 2020, UWTSD’s Luca Pagano, Graham Howe, Professor Peter Charlton, John Hughes, and Richard Morgan decided to focus their expertise on the development of a highly efficient 3D printed jet Venturi based respiratory support system to help the NHS during the initial COVID-19 outbreak.

The main objective was to develop a device that could be manufactured cheaply, rapidly and, at the same time, be user friendly whilst maintaining high performance levels. The device was optimised to be able to perform CPAP functionalities such as maintaining PEEP pressures in scenarios such as overwhelmed hospitals where oxygen supply was limited. 

UWTSD’s Luca Pagano, Senior Research Project Engineer at MADE Cymru said: “We found that standard CPAP devices are extremely inefficient, our device instead could function utilising a third of the oxygen. It’s also very uncommon for Venturi devices to be able to confidently maintain positive pressure within the patient’s airways while delivering correct gas mixtures. This was achieved through numerous iterative steps between modelling and testing.”

A Lead Bio–Medical Engineer in Nepal who had read the news about the Venturi asked if the team could share their 3D files for printing in his hospital in Pokhara where the COVID-19 situation was worsening by the minute.

The team responded rapidly setting a license agreement and subsequently transferred all the documentation/technical files and supported the Nepalese engineers with any queries. The device was successfully manufactured with low-end desktop 3d printers and adopted to save lives.

Graham Howe, Executive Head of MADE Cymru added: “Dr Steven Fielding brought the initial problem to my attention 10 years ago before I joined the University, and he and I worked on the idea, along with David Williams from UWTSD’s School of Manufacturing & Logistics who was studying towards an MSc Lean & Agile part-time.

“We picked it back up in Covid times as we realised it had the potential to really help, especially in the context of scarce oxygen supplies. But there were still significant issues to resolve in terms of the physics of it and so it could be additively manufacturing around the globe in places like Nepal.

“To be shortlisted for a St David Award is such an exciting accolade and proud moment for the team and clearly demonstrates how the R&D work at UWTSD can address critical global challenges.”

Announcing the finalists, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Some of the people shortlisted have shown extraordinary acts of bravery and determination. Others have shown incredible community spirit despite the pressures of living through the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our finalists are astonishing people, and we are very fortunate they call Wales home. I would like to congratulate all those who have been shortlisted and I want to thank everyone who took the time to nominate someone for an award – unfortunately not everyone can make the shortlist.”

Barry Liles, OBE, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Skills and Lifelong Learning at UWTSD said: “The University is pleased to see this team being recognised for their collaborative; innovative efforts undertaken at the height of the pandemic. Whilst striving to maintain their day-to-day workload, with all the restrictions that Covid placed them under, they worked above and beyond to rapidly find a solution which has yielded significant benefit. Their passion and enthusiasm shone through as they drove to secure a positive outcome.

This year’s award categories are: Bravery, Business, Community Spirit, Critical Worker, Culture, Environment Champion, Innovation, Science and Technology, Sport, Young Person, and the First Minister’s Special Award.

The winners will be announced in a ceremony on April 7.