Michigan Tech engineers build device to sanitize personal protective equipment

 (Andrew Barnard/Michigan Tech photo)
(Andrew Barnard/Michigan Tech photo) (WLUC)
Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 5:01 PM EDT
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Recently, a group of engineers at Michigan Tech created the “Mobile Thermal Utility Sanitizer to disinfect personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gowns, and face shields.

Andrew Barnard, director of Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center, says the idea for the unit came from a phone call from his cousin, Dan Barnard, and Dan's wife, Amy.

"At that point I pulled in some other engineers to look at the viability of making a device, and we kind of all said 'yeah, it looks like we can do this,’”Barnard said.

The unit, which is actually made out of a refrigerated shipping container, was tweaked so that it uses heat to disinfect PPE.

Barnard says the machine has the capability to sanitize up to 60,000 pieces of PPE per day.

"It's just a sauna. We made a really big sauna using residential heating units, some forced air blowers, and it works really great,” said Barnard.

Barnard says the parts used to build the machine are all readily available and commercially-sold, such as residential-grade heating and cooling supplies.

"The big idea here was to make something that everyone could build if we could give them instructions, and they could do it in a matter of days, not a matter of months, and you don't need degrees in engineering, you don't need degrees in medical science in order to do it,” Barnard said.

Recently, the National Guard stepped in to help transport the unit to Taylor, Mich. where it's effectiveness will be tested.

Nine soldiers have been trained to operate the machine while it is being tested downstate.

"We're also working with some hospital partners in lower Michigan to actually do the testing. We don't test with the coronavirus here at Michigan Tech, so instead of bringing the virus here, we took our device to the virus,” Barnard added.

The overall goal, Barnard says, is to perfect a mobile unit to disinfect PPE for health care workers everywhere, and to do it quickly.

"When we see these kinds of challenges, we like to step up to the task. We like to take on the challenge and see if we can solve it, and I think we're moving along that path for this device,” said Barnard.

You can read more about the inner workings of the device, as well as the different partners that made the machine a possibility, by clicking