Supercars engineer in race to save lives with ventilator prototype
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, UQ graduate Jeromy Moore has pivoted from fine-tuning Supercars to rapidly designing a life-saving ventilator.
Jeromy Moore understands the need for speed. As Technical Director for the Brisbane-based Triple Eight Race Engineering team, Jeromy designs high-performance Supercars for a living.
Since graduating from UQ in 2000 with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (Honours), he has worked as the lead design engineer for teams that have won some of the world’s most iconic endurance races, including the Bathurst 1000 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
But his professional pursuit of speed took on a new meaning in the middle of March, as the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated around the globe.
“I was down in Melbourne with the team preparing our cars for the Supercars event at the Australian Grand Prix,” Moore (pictured) told Contact.
“As we were working, we kept hearing news of major sporting events around the world that were being cancelled to stop the spread of the virus.
“Then, all of a sudden, the Grand Prix was cancelled. We were told to pack up and go home. It was the right decision, but it was a very strange feeling.”
With the 2020 Supercars season on hold indefinitely, Triple Eight’s team principal Roland Dane asked Moore and his fellow engineers to design a prototype ventilator that could be mass-produced rapidly in the event of the health crisis worsening.
“The news coming out of Europe at that time was really grim, as intensive care units were beyond capacity and people were dying because of a lack of ventilators,” Moore said.
“Roland could see that we might become desperately short of ventilators here in Australia, too, especially as international borders closed. So he decided we should get cracking on it.
“We have a small but talented group of engineers, who like the technical challenge of problem-solving, designing and manufacturing in quick turnaround. So, it was an opportunity to deliver a benefit for Australia and keep us busy at the same time.”
As the rate of Covid-19 infection in Australia climbed rapidly in late March, Moore and the Triple Eight team were in familiar territory – in a race against time.
They started designing the ventilator on 20 March and worked non-stop for 10 days until the prototype was ready on 30 March. Over those 10 days, they consulted with medical specialists, local intensive-care-unit experts, and Queensland Government departments on the project.
The prototype uses an off-the-shelf bag-valve-mask (BVM), that is used in ambulances to manually assist patients with their breathing. The team automated the role of a person’s hand in manual ventilation by adding a pincer device to the BVM and then built a drive mechanism, which adjusts the ventilator’s tidal volume, ratio of intake to exhaust and breaths per minute.
Since producing the initial prototype, Moore and the team have been fine-tuning the design to improve its reliability and precision – and to ensure it’s easy and cheap to manufacture.
“It’s not the kind of project that we’d usually be working on, but I’ve loved the opportunity to use my design skills on something that could literally save lives over the coming months."
While the prototype is far simpler than the ventilators that are typically used in hospital intensive care units, Moore is confident that it will be effective if called on in an emergency.
“It’s been designed to be used in a situation where the hospital system is overwhelmed,” he said.
“The design is still raw, so we haven’t put it out there yet, but if the situation in our hospital system worsens, then we could give this design to an Australian manufacturer who could quickly mass-produce it using locally sourced components.”
Once their design is finalised, the team is also planning to publish the details online as an open-source design, so it can be quickly adopted to assist in the manufacture of ventilators anywhere in the world.
“It’s not the kind of project that we’d usually be working on, but I’ve loved the opportunity to use my design skills on something that could literally save lives over the coming months,” Moore said.
“It’s been intense, but incredibly satisfying, too.”