Dale Automation has developed a prototype emergency ventilator, as a joint effort between its engineering department and medical professionals, to assist with the treatment of Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases.
Dale Automation, based in Johannesburg and established in 1999, is active in the poultry and baking industries.
The ventilator uses both invasive (ambu-bag type) and non-invasive (constant positive airway pressure, or CPAP) control, explains operations director Adam Sweeting.
The unit is named ‘Respirare’, which is Latin for breath.
“The unit was designed around simplicity, yet offers the safety features of high-end mechanical ventilators,” says Sweeting.
It is suitable for mobile or fixed applications.
“The unit has a custom-made walker trolley that can be fitted with various accessories as required,” notes Sweeting.
He says the idea for the ventilator came from Dale Automation’s leadership, who recognised the urgent demand for ventilators as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded.
“After a bit of research our MD thought that we as an engineering company could design our very own system.
“We pulled the team together via video conference [during Alert Level 5 lockdown] and started to discuss various methods of mechanical ventilation, which led to our idea of the ‘respirare’ device.”
Sweeting says the plan was to build a simple, yet cost-effective machine designed for Africa, in answer to the urgent demand for ventilators required to treat Covid-19.
“Sourcing of parts was the biggest challenge during lockdown, to the extreme that we had to strip old printers and various other equipment just to source some of the prototype components.”
While hunting for local components during lockdown, the Dale Automation team was introduced to a number of medical professionals.
“When they heard about our idea, they quickly jumped on board to offer both technical and medical advice,” says Sweeting.
“This included technical sessions to better understand how the lung works and what is physically required from a device to treat Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases.”
The Respirare project is part of the National Ventilator Project (NVP), which is a combined effort by the private and public sectors to source sufficient ventilators to treat South Africa’s Covid-19 patients, says Sweeting.
“We applied to the NVP when it first requested submissions. At the time, the NVP was looking for CPAP units only and we had already been well into the development of the mechanical ventilator, however, we still submitted our concept. We then started to focus our efforts on developing our own CPAP alongside the respirator.”
Sweeting says Dale Automation has not yet received all the necessary regulatory approvals for the Respirare.
“We are busy with testing and should be in a position to meet with the medical experts soon. We have compared our CPAP to the opensource Mercedes option and exceed their test results, which also included a number of tests set out in the rapidly manufactured CPAP system guidelines.”
Supply and Demand
Sweeting says Dale Automation will supply the ventilator to whoever requires it.
“The target is focused around the local and African footprint.
“As our system is low voltage, it can be used in vehicles (like ambulances or other emergency vehicles). Having a dedicated battery backup, it can also be used in remote locations with problematic power sources,” explains Sweeting.
“The base model can be fitted with a solar charger.”
The prototype unit is designed to last at least 12 hours on battery power, however, tests are being carried out with higher performing batteries to increase this capacity.
“The design also allows for quick access to the ambu-bag should an emergency occur to establish manual ventilation should it be required.
“We must remember that this device is not to replace ventilators, but that it provides emergency ventilation as and when required,” notes Sweeting.
“It also allows paramedics, nurses or others to free their hands to focus on other needs, depending on the situation.”
Sweeting says the Respirare is also then priced as an emergency ventilator.
“We are expecting pricing to fall within a third of a low-end hospital-grade type ventilator, which would include the CPAP device and mobile trolley.”
Sweeting says Dale Automation can manufacture 100 units a month, which is around three to four units a day.
“We have produced three prototype units which all have various upgrades.
“Should we be successful in tenders, this would be a job driver for the local community.”
Sweeting says the design, programming and manufacturing of the Respirare unit are done locally.
“We have sourced a number of components from local suppliers, however, owing to Covid-19, the lack of access to materials resulted in some components having to be imported at short notice.
“Since then we have sourced a number of local vendors.
“We have found that the bulk of medical equipment is imported, which allows for opportunities in the near future to locally manufacture some of these components. I would split the estimate at around 60/40 local to international at this point.”