Most of the major automakers and many other companies are stepping up to help produce more desperately-needed equipment like air purifiers and respirators, leading to some fascinating improvised quick engineering and design solutions. The results feel a bit like the sort of clever engineering within severe constraints of an Apollo 13-style emergency problem-solving scenario, like Ford’s design for a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR).
Ford’s media arm sent out a press release detailing the efforts to design and build the PAPRs, a joint venture between Ford, 3M, GE Healthcare, and the UAW.
The job of a powered air-purifying respirator is to draw outside, possible virus—contaminated air into a filtration system before making it available for the person wearing it to breathe. Unlike passive filters like masks which rely on the wearer’s lungs to draw the air through a filter mesh, these powered respirators can enclose a person’s entire head in a hood and flood the hood with filtered air.
To do this means you need to have something that can actually draw the air in, which is why it’s powered, and that’s where the clever, car-part-related bits come in.
Ford is re-purposing seat-cooling squirrel-cage-type blower fans from F-150 trucks to pull in air through the filters and blow the air into the feeder hose for the hood. The 12V needed to drive the fan is provided by what looks to be a standard power tool battery pack, the kind you’d use in something like a power drill.
It looks like all these bits are packed into 3D-printed plastic housings and mounted on a strap that lets it be worn on someone’s back, I think.
The hood design uses a simple Tyvek pattern for the hood itself and hoses that could be sourced from either the pool supply or vacuum cleaner industries.
Ford is also employing 3D printing technologies to make custom plastic parts for the hoods and filter units, which feels nice and futuristic.
It’s really almost impossible not to think of these in context to the Apollo 13 carbon dioxide air-scrubber ersatz fix with gray tape and covers from their mission plan manuals, and I really can’t imagine any higher praise than that.