Model Exchange and Development of Nursing and Engineering Technologies
face-shields given to medical heroes
ear saving mask straps donated
intubation boxes given to keep healthcare workers safe
Covid-19 Thank You's
“Awesome...Y’all are great!”
— Hellen Keller Hospital
The Systems Management and Production (SMAP) Center is the largest research organization at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The SMAP Center uses 3D printers and 3D modeling software to prepare our students to help change the world. We have been working with the College of Nursing (CoN) faculty to develop medical models for student nurses to learn and fine-tune their life-saving procedures. These models allow students to practice for a fraction of the price should these models be purchased.
When the Covid-19 pandemic occurred in America, the SMAP Center and the College of Nursing took action! We saw the need for medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). Our engineering staff began producing face shields, surgical mask straps, and intubation boxes. To date, almost 1,800 pieces of PPE have been distributed free of charge to North Alabama hospitals, medical centers, and nursing homes.
In order to meet even greater needs from geographically dispersed organizations, MED NET was developed as a structured approach to share these important medical files.
For the past two years, the UAH SMAP Center has collaborated with the UAH College of Nursing (CoN) Learning and Technology Resource Center (LTRC) in developing and producing models and devices to enhance nursing education and classroom training. The SMAP Center utilized undergraduate engineers to develop, fine tune and create physical models using 3D printing and injection molding. The results of this collaboration was a significant cost savings and improved products to the CoN while training engineers for the workforce. The collaboration also led to joint projects with local school systems to address school safety and active shooter emergency response training. The impact has led to improved hands-on training of both engineers and nursing faculty/students.
RESPONSE TO COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a shortage and a supply chain issue internationally of personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical professionals. Many organizations, including the SMAP Center, utilized 3D printing to rapidly develop face shields, mask straps and other devices. As a key member of the team, the CoN LTRC coordinated and facilitated an organized transfer of these face shields, etc. to local hospitals and medical centers. In addition, the SMAP Center and CoN LTRC coordinated and assisted other UAH research centers to develop and deliver intubation boxes. The production and logistics of all materials were done with single-person operations, i.e. each step in the process was performed by a single individual. No person was put at risk through interactions with another, as the overall process did not require physical interaction.
LESSONS LEARNED & THE NEXT STEP: MED-NET
Through coordinated efforts between the SMAP Center, the CoN and the health care community, a number of lessons were learned. These include:
The ability to quickly respond to emergency requirements for some PPE can be met through 3D printing, injection molding and CNC equipment.
There are numerous models available open source, but they need to be vetted by a qualified medical unit.
The logistics of delivering required PPE to remote locations, i.e. rural hospitals, nursing homes, etc. stresses a system that relies on one or a few centralized facilities.
Organization and frequent communication are key factors in success.
PPE should begin with prototype, allow time for revision and testing prior to production.
Localized planning is essential – for resources, POCs and emergency needs.
An affordable infrastructure should be maintained that facilitates a future emergency medical response.
The results of our efforts and the lessons learned led to the creation of the Model Exchange & Development of Nursing & Engineering Technologies (MED NET).
The MED NET infrastructure utilizes the existing network of county technical schools in coordination with the University’s research and nursing resources. The SMAP Center provides model development, model hosting, model exchange and assistance as related to production technologies. The UAH College of Nursing will vet all models for validity, collaborate, mentor students and identify biomedical project priorities. The participating county tech schools provide local community support via 3D printing, CNC, injection molding and other required technologies to print required models – thus giving a surge capability and distribution network within their respective counties. The ability to produce locally greatly reduces the logistics of rapid delivery.
All models developed by the SMAP Center or the tech schools will be available on the SMAP website and distributed to other tech schools for wider impact. There will be no charge to the community partners or stakeholders.
The ancillary benefits of MED NET include an almost zero financial investment: the tools and technologies used are already owned by the tech schools as well as by many K-12 schools. In addition, the tech schools typically also provide nurse and emergency responder training classes – which can be enhanced by the additional models/ products provided. The students learning to use these technologies are growing the future workforce for manufacturing, engineering and nursing. And lastly, the products developed are not limited to pandemic response. The UAH CoN has derived a substantial cost benefit from using in-house developed education products.