Auburn mechanical engineers turn CPAP machines into ventilators


AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – A group of Auburn University mechanical engineers saw the nation’s need for more ventilators during the crisis.

The Auburn design, called RE-INVENT, is an accessory that would safely repurpose a CPAP, one of the most important tools hospitals have for helping COVID19 patients, into a functional ventilator.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering says that just how engineers work. “Our first response to a problem is lets figure out how to solve it,” Zabala said.

Along with Michael Zabala was Tom Burch, another faculty member in the college, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, initiated the project. Additional engineering faculty and alumni helped refine the mechanical design, control system, user interface and alarms.

Zabala says they were called by the U-S army to develop about a $300 ventilator.

“We decided that we wanted to prioritize the ability of a device to provide ventilation to a patient to the extent that is medically necessary to sustain life as best as we could understand it,” Zabala explained. For about $700, not including the cost of the CPAP, they made this emergency ventilator.

“We chose that specific design in the incorporation of a CPAP because it has a lot of functionality of that of a ventilator,” he said. The mechanical engineering team of seven created an accessory to go with the CPAP that houses two valves.

“While one valve opens, the inspiration valve it allows the air to come from the CPAP to the patient. That valve closes and then the second valve opens which is attached to the expiration tube for the patient. And the naturally tendency of the lungs, if they’re expanded is to is to come back down to their natural size and expiration to occur. So the expiration valve closes so the person can breath out.”

Zabala says the benefit of using the CPAP is that it can provide warm and moisturized air to the patient. “The device allows for the treating physician or respiratory therapist to change certain parameters that they’re used to seeing on a ventilator,” he continued.

Zabala says the team has two new ventilators currently made. They’re in the process of establishing relationships with manufacturers to be able to mass-produce the machine. He says they want to make as many as we can and as high quality as they can be so they’re reliable and can actually be utilized.

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