“3D designs and printing gave us an opportunity of customization of the origami ventilator's air volume capacity with reliable monitoring”Woo Soo Kim

New research from the Additive Manufacturing Lab at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia is using origami to help the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on 3D-printed origami technology, their breakthrough could lead to inexpensive and portable ventilators that improve the treatment of the most critically sick Covid-19 patients.

As described in the journal Flexible and Printed Electronics [Kim et al. Flex. Print. Electron. (2021) DOI: 10.1088/2058-8585/ac1fd6], the technology, a patented, intelligent 3D-printed origami tube, looks to copy the precision folding of origami to develop 3D printable technologies for ventilators. Mechanical ventilators have two key components: an active airbag and a venting control system. Here, an active airbag was designed using mechanically tunable 3D origami structures that offer reliable and reconfigurable characteristics, such as the airbag's volume being tuned by controlling the triangular angles in the 3D origami-folding plates.

A mechanical ventilator with a 3D origami tube was produced to replace the standard rubber air bag with the capability of self-monitoring air pressure using 3D-printed sensors on the air tube surface. As research leader Woo Soo Kim toldMaterials Today, “3D designs and printing gave us an opportunity of customization of the origami ventilator's air volume capacity with reliable monitoring”.

The portable mechanical ventilator can assist breathing by accurately contracting a 3D-printed origami tube instead of using the usual bag-valve mask (BVM) approach, which helps reduce the size of the assisted breathing machine while offering improved mechanical strength. The design and lightweight materials used in the portable origami ventilator also reduce production costs as over 95% of the components can be 3D-printed.

The small and lightweight design, and low production costs, means the portable ventilator is useful for treating Covid-19 patients or patients who need a compact and transportable device away from a hospital, such as long-term care homes or in remote rural areas and developing countries. This is especially crucial due to the growing concerns about a lack of ventilators to handle the increased demand brought on by the pandemic.

With the same strategy, the team are also developing 3D origami dry electrodes for monitoring patient health. These dry electrodes can detect and monitor physiological signals, such as heartbeat, breathing, temperature and muscle movements, just with the touch of the electrodes, technology that one day could be used to assist doctors and nurses by allowing them to assess patients’ health remotely through a robot helper.

Although the new ventilators still need medical approval before they can be used in a clinical environment, the researchers are seeking co-design and collaboration with the biomedical sector for a user-centered design approach.

Portable mechanical ventilator based on origami
Portable mechanical ventilator based on origami