AE Prof. Greg Elliott on team that created prototype emergency ventilator
In response to the urgent need for ventilators due to the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Illinois researchers and industry experts put their know-how together to create a prototype emergency ventilator. The team of about 40 people included Professor Gregory Elliott from the Department of Aerospace Engineering.
The overall project leader was Professor William King from the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering. As he quickly built his team, King said aerospace engineering Elliott’s name rose to the top.
“Over the last few weeks, I learned that Greg Elliott is a fluids engineering super genius. I suspect that everyone else that has worked with him already knows that,” said King, who holds appointments in The Grainger College of Engineering and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. “Greg helped our team to engineer the pressure-based switching of the device, which is critical for its basic function to fill a person’s lungs.”
When he contacted Elliott about joining the team late, the team had already settled on the basic components of the design of the ventilator. Elliott said he began by watching a lot of videos of ventilators online over the first weekend to understand how the devices work. The following Monday, he became part of the lead team to design and test the modulator--a main component to the ventilator. It is the pneumatic switch for the device between inspiration and expiration in the respiratory cycle.
The Illinois RapidVent, as the emergency ventilator is known, would plug into the oxygen source available in most hospital rooms or could plug into a tank of oxygen.
Elliott said he and other members of the engineering team studied existing ventilators to figure out how the devices work, then along with research partners from The Grainger College of Engineering (Nick Glumac, Blake Johnson, Tonghun Lee, Sam Tawfick, Eric Wood) and Creative Thermal Systems (Stefan Elbel and Andrew Musser) manufactured the first prototype, which ran the first time it was tested.
“I've got a shop at home, so I enjoy building things,” Elliott said. “I was able to do some simple calculations on how different parts of the device needed to be sized, and how the device worked. Then we made design changes, so we could rapidly prototype it using 3D manufacturing techniques.”
Elliott guesses he spent 12 to 14 hours a day on the project over the approximately two weeks since King first called him.
“When I was first asked to join this team, I thought about my background,” Elliott said. “I had worked at Ford Motor Company, taught fluid mechanics and hands-on laboratory courses for years at Rutgers and the University of Illinois, and had an experimental research background.
“It was just one of those times in my life when I felt like I was created to do something. I had the background of all these years and worked on different projects to do something like this. I'm a fairly religious person. I felt like all my years of research, teaching, and even hobbies had prepared me to be a part of this wonderful team from across the university, with doctors at Carle, and local businesses.”
Elliott said at this point, they’ve built multiple prototypes, conducted benchtop testing, endurance testing, in which the prototype ran for more than 75 hours—more than 125,000 breathing cycles. The next step will be identifying partners and resources to produce the Illinois RapidVent at scale.
Partners in the Illinois RapidVent project include faculty and researchers from across the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, its Grainger College of Engineering, its Siebel Center for Design, its Applied Research Institute, Carle Health, Tekmill, and Creative Thermal Solutions, Inc.
For more about the prototype, visit http://rapidvent.grainger.illinois.edu.