Engineers in Rio de Janeiro Roll Up Their Sleeves to Repair Ventilators

Members of the Engineers Assisting Ventilator Maintenance project
Photo: Alexandre Pinhel

Members of the Engineers Assisting Ventilator Maintenance project [from left] Yuri Gabrich, Alexandre Pinhel, Julio César Santos, Maurício Motta, Carlos Travessa, and Juliana Oliveira visit the Rio de Janeiro State Health Department.

By: The Institute's Editorial Staff

THE INSTITUTE Volunteers from the IEEE Rio de Janeiro Section and others are fighting the COVID-19 outbreak by repairing broken mechanical ventilators used in public hospitals. Ventilators are commonly used to treat COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory distress. There are simply not enough professionals available to repair the equipment in the short time frame due to the large demand for machines, says Yuri Bastos Gabrich, one of the IEEE members working on the Engineers Assisting Ventilator Maintenance project. 

“The pandemic has increased the demand for new ventilators worldwide, which has also complicated the [ability to] purchase new ones,” he says.

To help cover the expenses of their project, the IEEE volunteers applied to the COVID-19 Fund sponsored by the IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee and the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology. The project was awarded US $5,000. Out of the 30 volunteers working on the project, 13 are IEEE members. In addition to Gabrich, they include Senior Member Oumar Diene and Member Gidy Carolina Florez Navarro.

In addition, the project has the support of the Rio de Janeiro State Health Department.

Also assisting the hospitals is the Federal Center for Technological Education of Rio de Janeiro (CEFET/RJ), which launched the “Núcleo de Reparo de Ventiladores Mecânicos” (Repair Center of Mechanical Ventilators) with several partner institutions. Repairs are done at a maintenance hub located at CEFET/RJ Maracanã campus. Because all the onsite educational activities were suspended due to the pandemic, minor renovations were made to lab classrooms to turn them into repair rooms, Gabrich says. Only the volunteers doing the repairs have access to the facilities.

“Individuals and several industry partners are [assisting with] the initiative, and creating a multidisciplinary team with a range of knowledge and tools that together impact the society for the good,” Gabrich says. “In addition to helping to save lives, the IEEE members and nonmembers are getting the opportunity to learn about topics such as the treatments being used for COVID-19 patients, equipment maintenance, test management, equipment care and safety, and health monitoring.”

Since June, the volunteers have repaired eight ventilators, and five more machines are in the process of being fixed and will be ready for use later this month.

The Institute asked Gabrich about the project.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What problem are you trying to solve?

The lack of mechanical ventilators to meet the huge need for treatment of COVID-19 patients in public hospitals in Rio de Janeiro State.

What technologies are you using?

To gather information about the ventilators that need to be repaired, a multidisciplinary team of professors and researchers from the CEFET/RJ Nova Iguaçu campus developed the Android app, SOSTecSaúde. This app connects hospitals and medical centers asking for help with those who can [provide] aid. This is the entryway to start the repair activities at the maintenance hub.

For the security of equipment, several cameras with facial recognition were installed throughout the maintenance hub to track all steps the ventilators pass through—from the arrival and departure gate to each repair room. This visual monitoring is offered by the initiative’s partner GSOL Energy, [an IT company] that has provided network infrastructure and apparatus to monitor the hub, 24/7.

For monitoring the health of on-site volunteers, we are using a predictive data analysis of their heart rate and actigraphic data. [Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring a person’s cycle of rest and activity]. This technology is offered by the initiative’s partner EzRest , which works with professional fatigue management. Volunteers wear the Xiaomi Mi Band 3 [a fitness tracker] to collect the data, which is sent to the EzRest AI system that monitors their health condition. When a different pattern [of readings] is found, the system indicates a health risk but it does not identify the risk or its cause. However, when a moderate to high health risk is identified, [it is recommended that] the volunteer take a break from work and seek medical attention.

What training is provided to those who fix the machine?

Volunteers received eight hours of training divided over two days. The theoretical lessons formed the basis for the almost 58 hours of hands-on activities that came in the following days.   

Wanderson Alves de Araújo gave volunteers instructions about how to handle and repair the mechanical ventilators using the brands Maquet and Servo-S [Servo-based technology]. De Araújo is the technical supervisor for Nova Service, one of [the initiative’s] partners. Beyond the tips and tricks he taught us, he also visits the hub once a week to calibrate ventilators before sending them back to hospitals.

Cristiane Duarte Barbosa, a nurse working on the front lines, taught [us] about how to adjust ventilator parameters. We use the GE iVent-20 model. Cristiane and Julio César Santos are both professors of nursing at the CEFET/RJ Nova Iguaçu campus. They explained several [interesting things] about coronavirus treatment.

Alexandre Pinhel, an IEEE senior member, and [an] engineer at Eletrobras Furnas, [a power utility company] explained electrostatic discharge (ESD). He taught us how to properly manipulate electronic boards without damaging them or unconsciously compromising their lifetime. He also gave each volunteer a copy of his book “Basic Concepts for Protection Against Static Electricity: The Problem of Electrostatic Discharges in Electronic Components.”

For the rest of the project’s schedule, the trained volunteers are responsible for passing on the acquired knowledge to new volunteers that may join the team. Volunteers always work under the supervision of specialized engineers.

What medical facilities and other organizations are you helping?

We are repairing ventilators from Raul Sertã Municipal Hospital, Getúlio Vargas State Hospital, Eduardo Rabelo State Hospital, and Alberto Torres State Hospital.

What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

In the beginning, the urgency to find partners, learn new subjects in [a short time], and organize all the activities to receive equipment and [train] volunteers became an unhealthy and stressful job for CEFET’s committee. They were spending hours working without stop, and even without drinking water. The end of the day was always bad.

The solution was to implement a snack time. It brought happy smiles back (even with a facial mask), and has transformed the team’s stop time to self-care and recharge time. The snack time happens in the open space of the hub, with each volunteer sitting apart from each other, maintaining social distancing.

Another challenge was to deal with a large amount of information and activities. Volunteers, from seniors to beginners, came to understand the need for better communication about what was going on and decided to divide responsibilities to get better results. Therefore, while a couple of them give attention to the process documentation, some focus on repairing equipment, while others contact partners and do some marketing.

For instance, the IEEE Young Professionals Rio de Janeiro Section leaders, Member Marcos Magalhães and Member Fernando Lima, are remotely contributing to the project’s social media and holding weekly meetings to align planning and execution of the activities.

The project’s treasurer (as well as the IEEE section’s), Thomas Moreira Campello, an IEEE graduate student member who is also working remotely, is responsible for paying for the snacks. José Andrés Santisteban Larrea, an IEEE senior member and chair of IEEE Industrial Applications/Industrial Electronics, and Power Electronics joint chapter, is organizing live events to spread the [word about the] initiative and gather funds, even while working from home.

The organizers of the initiative, Alexandre Pinhel and Mauricio Motta have reached [out to] several industry representatives and received the required support to set up the hub.

The wish to impact society for the good is the gear that moves this group of dedicated volunteers towards the efforts to save lives.

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 17 August 2020.