John Roe, Sales Director at Micronel UK talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the Micronel fan and blower business and the wide range of air movement applications that are being worked on in the fight against the virus…

Q: When did Micronel first start to get involved with fighting the Coronavirus pandemic?

A: Micronel has always supplied numerous Medical Breathing Equipment Manufacturers around the world, it is probably our biggest single application area for our small dc blowers. Our radial blower’s, also known as pumps or turbines, generate high pressure and airflow and as such are ideal for use in hospital ventilator applications, particularly portable and transport equipment. Back in January we had contact from China when the virus had first taken hold in Wuhan and were asked about how we could increase supply of our blowers for their hospital ventilators. As well as increasing production capacity internally, Micronel also needed to overcome certain supply chain bottlenecks for the brushless dc motors used within our blowers. At one stage we had to organise shipments of specialised magnets for the brushless motors out of China using a trans-Siberian train because conventional airfreight capacity was not open at that time.

Q: How did Micronel see things escalate after the very first requests?

A: After China, the demand came from Europe as the virus spread to Italy and then soon after Micronel were inundated with requests from around the world. High demand may sound like a nice problem to have for a manufacturer, but the unknown nature of the pandemic combined with widespread panic was very difficult and not a pleasant experience, particularly as many people were suffering and healthcare workers were putting themselves at risk on the frontline. The main Micronel Swiss factory on the outskirts of Zurich had to go from a single day shift to two shifts then also add a night shift all whilst borders were closing, and local populations were instructed to stay at home. We also had to ensure our supply chain could deliver inbound across closed borders and with their own local lockdown issues, whilst keeping the Micronel workforce safe.

Q: Ventilators were the big story in the early days, what are the special requirements of ventilators?

A: Micronel’s high performance blower range are tailored to the needs and requirements of medical breathing ventilation therapy. The blowers support intubated ventilators (also known as invasive) which are used in full ICU areas as well as non-invasive applications (CPAP/Bi-Level/Transport). Ventilation modes of 10 to 80 millibar (4 to 32 inH2O), enable a peak flow rate of 400 litres/min (14.2 cfm) and allow for maximum pressures of more than 110 millibar (44 inH2O). The new low inertia of mass impellers reduces the “flywheel” moment of inertia and offer highly dynamic accelerations of up to 1 million RPM per second, crucial when following the breathing rate of patients. This enables a ventilator response, which could previously only be achieved using valve-controlled ventilation devices. By combining ideal pneumatic geometry and specially designed brushless dc motors, maximum efficiency of the turbines is achieved resulting in reduced motor heating, low current consumption and extended operating time for battery applications. Oxygen resistant versions are also available to prevent the corrosive effects of blended Oxygen and non-flammable biocompatible materials provide additional safety for patients.

Q: There were stories in the press that intubated ventilators were quite a harsh treatment. What other alternatives did you get involved with?

A: The clinical view developed with experience and for less severe cases a less harsh treatment was often used with a tight-fitting mask to provide so called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) as an alternative non-invasive method of ventilator support for some COVID-19 patients. CPAP ventilators typically require lower pressures, around 20 to 30 millibars to assist with breathing and oxygen therapy.

Q: What other applications have Micronel been involved with?

A: Micronel have supported a wide variety of applications related to COVID-19. One application that is a hot topic right now is rapid polymerase chain reaction PCR testing which is used to analyse the samples and test for coronavirus. PCR often consists of a series of 20–40 repeated temperature changes/thermal cycles and the equipment often uses a Micronel blower or axial tube fan to blow high speed air for the rapid cool down cycles of the target samples.

Q: With hospital admissions falling is the demand for COVID-19 applications now starting to level off?

A: Things are still very busy as the virus is at different stages around the world. Micronel now see an increased demand for disinfection and sterilising applications where blowers are often used for drying or for circulating mixtures. There is also a lot of interest in Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) applications used to safeguard people against contaminated air by pulling air through anti-viral HEPA filters into head tops. Micronel blowers are widely used in low air loss mattresses in ICU hospital beds to prevent long term bed ridden patients getting pressure sores. Whilst we all hope for a return to normality very soon, as long as the virus is circulating in society there will be an increased need for Breathing therapy, Ventilators, Respirators, Personal Protection, Air Purification, Disinfection, Air sampling, Laboratory, Diagnostic & Test. These can all require some form of air movement with significant pressure or suction (vacuum) to force air through tubes or chambers or overcome system/filter resistance. 

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