Open Ventilator System Initiative (OVSI)


The Open Ventilator System Initiative (OVSI) was established in March 2020 to develop an open source, low cost, high-quality ventilator system for under-resourced contexts, such as public hospitals in low- and middle-income countries.

CGE is one of the co-founders of OVSI, along with the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, the Department of Physics and the Whittle Laboratory in Engineering at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Aerothermal, Interneuron and Cambridge Global Health Partnerships. Other core OVSI collaborators include Beko, Prodrive and Cambridge Precision in the UK, Defy and Denel in South Africa, the University of Nairobi (Kenya) and Bahir Dar University (Ethiopia).

“Our approach to the design, production and diffusion of the OVSI ventilator system will take place in three phases: the immediate humanitarian response, supported by capability building and ecosystem building for several years, and the establishment of long-term international research collaborations.”

Learn more on the official OVSI website here, and look out for project updates on our social media channels.


Intern Spotlight

CGE’s Summer Interns Play Significant Role in the Open Ventilator System Initiative (OVSI)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, there were ten countries in Africa that had no ventilators, and the World Health Organisation estimated that there were fewer than 2,000 working devices across the entire continent. In response, the Open Ventilator System Initiative (OVSI) was formed. OVSI is a consortium of academics, engineers, intensive care medics, innovators and industry partners from across Africa and the UK that evolved an initial idea proposed at the University of Cambridge in March 2020. The Centre for Global Equality continues to play a principal role in the consortium as development continues, and this report reveals how its two summer interns, Ben Moore and Zinzan Gurney, had a significant impact on the oxygen concentrator work package.

Ben is a fourth year student at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) and Zinzan is in his third year at the Department of Engineering. Ben is passionate about design and manufacturing in the context of international development and humanitarian aid, and in particular the role that local manufacturing has in empowering communities. During Summer 2019 Ben worked on a pilot project in rehabilitation hospitals to repair broken medical equipment using 3D printed replacement parts. Zinzan aims to pursue a career in the engineering industry that will give him the opportunity to work on projects that seek to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Ben joined the OVSI oxygen concentrator team at the end of May and was initially tasked with conducting in-depth desk-research to investigate how the impact of environmental factors, such as heat, humidity and altitude may affect the performance of the oxygen concentrator. Ben engaged with clinicians and engineers in the UK and Sub Saharan Africa and presented his findings back to the teams in Ethiopia, Kenya and the UK. Ben’s research had a direct impact on the designs themselves, and also on business model considerations. Ben’s aptitude and enthusiasm impressed the UK team, and as a result there was a real desire to keep him involved in the project.

Around this time, the current student cohort of Matt Wang and Alex Watson was coming to the end of its sprint, and this provided the perfect opportunity for Ben to become directly involved with hands-on design and engineering of the oxygen concentrator. Overall momentum of the oxygen concentrator work package was now building fast as the realisation dawned that this relatively basic piece of equipment could in fact offer life-saving oxygen therapy to millions of patients around the world, and not just those suffering from COVID-19.

Ben was immediately tasked with finalising the concentrator test rig design, picking up on the excellent progress that had been made by Matt and Alex. He also needed to conclude sourcing the various materials and components that would be utilised for the build. Two of these items, the reactor vessel and aluminium breadboard, were bespoke parts that required design and manufacture, which resulted in Ben working closely with a team at specialist engineering company Cambridge Precision. Once all of the items arrived Ben turned his attention to designing the rig layout on the breadboard, with the help of friend and fellow engineering student, Ben Yass. In a focussed 2-week sprint, team Ben² completed the breadboard design and assembly, and were now ready to begin running the first phase of tests.

A vital aspect of the OVSI initiative is that the designs be open sourced so that they are available globally. Ben was supported by a second intern, Zinzan Gurney, to carry out this crucial piece of work. Both devices, the ventilator and the concentrator must be made available on GitLab, the open source platform, but priority of focus was given to the ventilator due to it being considered for inclusion by the United Nations Technology Access Partnership. Ben and Zinzan worked through a busy shared server in an effort to firstly gather together all of the relevant documentation, and then to categorise it in a manner that would ensure the correct ventilator version was the one that would be published on the GitLab repository. Ben and Zinzan worked closely with Tash Ramsander and Antonio D’Ammaro, who had both led the Whittle Lab team that designed the ventilator prototypes, and with Professor Axel Zeitler from CEB. Together they worked through the different sets of documentation that Ben and Zinzan had found, and categorised them against the relevant iteration of the device. This piece of work is almost complete, bar what should be an exciting 4-week Michaelmas sprint, where a small team of volunteers will disassemble and reassemble the Whittle V2 prototype to ensure that the documentation matches the reality.

Undoubtedly then, internships have the potential to be highly fulfilling, and offer opportunities for students to gain valuable experiences. Having that on your CV can help to avoid the all too familiar Catch 22 situation, which often happens when we are applying for our first job, but are told that we need more experience! It also demonstrates the rewards that can come as a result of being personable, reliable, enthusiastic and a pleasure to work with. These are traits that don’t always gain top billing on job ads, but they can be incredibly valuable characteristics, especially when working in small teams.

The first phase of testing scenarios for the oxygen concentrator will begin in early November, with the same rig design being run concurrently in Cambridge and the BIT Makerspace in Ethiopia, whilst the Makerspace team at the University of Nairobi will begin testing soon, using a dual cylinder design. The long-term goal is to have a fully regulated version of the device ready for launch in March 2021.
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