KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Managing moving parts. It's Andy Bornhorst's life—both professionally and personally. Now that those two worlds have merged amid stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, time is in short supply. Still, Bornhorst, manufacturing engineering manager at Parker Hannifin's Pneumatic Division in Richland and father of four young boys—one of them just weeks old—found time to volunteer his innovative skills to improve safety for frontline health care workers.
It started with a social media post from a friend. Brady Beauchamp, a local nurse anesthetist and clinical instructor for the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, posted a link to an article about an aerosol box designed by a Taiwanese doctor to protect health professionals from aerosolized COVID-19 droplets while intubating and extubating patients—something a team of WMU faculty members had also conceptualized. Beauchamp was looking for help building a box to help protect himself and his co-workers.
"I can't sew, so this was my way of helping during this time of need," says Bornhorst, a 2009 alumnus of Western Michigan University's mechanical engineering program. "I was looking for a way to lend my skill and resources to help others during this pandemic."
On his own time, Bornhorst built a prototype box with a couple of friends. A local hospital put it into action the next day.
"After that, I called Schupan Aluminum and Plastic Sales to see if they would be interested in donating the material to build more of the boxes," says Bornhorst. John Barry, the company's president, enthusiastically joined the cause, committing to donate 20 to 30 boxes to Ascension Borgess Hospital and Bronson Healthcare.
“One of our core values is being inspired to help others. This has been such an exciting project on a number of different levels,” Barry says.
Finding the help necessary to fulfill Beauchamp's request was easy. Getting the boxes to the health care facilities proved more challenging.
"We started looking at how much space the boxes took up, how difficult it would be to ship them and store them," says Bornhorst, whose engineering ingenuity kicked in. "I came up with a locking design that allows (the box) to be taken apart by removing some of the pins."
Bornhorst's hook-and-slot design not only makes the boxes collapsible to easily transport, it’s also easier to sanitize the devices between uses. The technology is currently patent-pending and being marketed and manufactured by Schupan as Aero|Guard. For every 10 units ordered, the company is donating one to an organization in need. Right now, about 100 of the devices are in use in the field—many of them at two hospitals in Kalamazoo.
“During this stressful time, having innovative protective measures gives us an added layer of comfort,” says Dr. Scott Gibson, medical director of Trauma and Emergency Services at Bronson Methodist Hospital. “Airway intubations are crucial for critically ill patients, but anxiety producing and risky for physicians and staff. These boxes allow us to test and refine physical barriers and they provide extra protection against exposure to the COVID-19 virus during these procedures.”
The versatility of Bornhorst’s design has drawn interests from people across the country, and not just those involved specifically in intubation.
“There’s a potential for any procedure that’s being done when you’re close to a patient’s airway,” says Barry. “We’ve talked to dentists, to opthamologists, to gastroenterologists—anyone that’s going to be close to a patient’s airway has a potential solution here.”
Bornhorst has been blown away by the response.
"My initial intention in this was just to help out a friend and some of the local doctors and frontline medical workers," Bornhorst says. "It's turning out to be bigger than I expected."
He credits the basic skills he honed at WMU for his ability to adapt and rise to engineering challenges, like those presented in this project. The program also opened the door to internships and job training opportunities that put him on the path to career success. Now, he's happy to be able to use his knowledge for the greater good.
"I think it's important for people to look for ways to use their skills in a productive way rather than getting on social media and complaining about the situation," says Bornhorst. "It's important to do whatever you can to help."
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