In the midst of a global pandemic, WMU is at the forefront of cutting-edge disinfection innovation aimed at making the places we work, learn and live safer. International product development firm Tekna tapped the University to pilot its new AvaUV devices, which use ultraviolet—UVC—light to kill pathogens on professional tools and everyday personal devices.
"It's going to actually help rid bacteria and pathogens that could be harmful," says Rob Hicks, senior lead designer. "We look at Western as such a great partner for us. It's wonderful that they've opened their doors to bring us in and run this pilot. We’d love to do more of this in the future."
The technology works by generating concentrated UVC light in a highly reflective, contained space that can penetrate hard-to-clean surfaces. It’s the kind of tool Pete Strazdas, WMU's associate vice president for facilities management, was eager to add to his team's arsenal.
"We were looking at every facility application to make our campus safe, and the AvaUV product was unique," he says, adding that it was important for the University to utilize multiple approaches to sanitizing in addition to frequent surface cleaning. "A big problem is, how do you handle items that people bring into buildings that are frequently touched, such as keys, phones, cards and books? UV technology is a great application to solve that."
While thinking globally, it was important to the company to act locally in the development process.
"As CEO of Tekna and alumni of WMU, it is especially rewarding to have the opportunity to partner with WMU through the first comprehensive site installation," says Kris Eager, who founded the company in 1988 with wife and fellow alumnus, Claire, the company's chief administrative officer. "WMU's participation and commitment to a comprehensive safety program for its students, faculty and guests is just another reason we are proud to be Broncos."
AN INNOVATIVE PURSUIT
Early on in the fight against COVID-19, like many companies, Tekna began looking for avenues to use its expertise to give back to the community.
"We’re very excited because we have a differentiated product that is really going to help people. At the end of the day, that's what this is about. It's about mitigating risk and cutting the chain of events where people are carrying pathogens with them every day," says Mike Rozewicz, Tekna vice president.
WMU industrial design alumnus Adam Dudycha played a part in designing, building and coding electronics for the portfolio of devices. They range from small, table-top units called the Capsule that can disinfect small personal items in just 30 seconds to two larger locker-sized containers called the Cube and Cube 2 that can disinfect larger equipment in two minutes.
"It has been a unique test of Tekna's abilities and talent, and I am proud to be part of something that can bring comfort and ease concerns during these difficult times we are in now," he says.
For the pilot, AvaUV devices have been placed in various areas across the WMU campus, including Valley Dining Center, Waldo Library, Floyd Hall and the College of Health and Human Services. Tekna will collect information about how each device is used in order to help with future product development.
"I could see the learnings and momentum we gain with Western, tailoring and working together to find a better solution for taking care of students on campus, and that could start to trickle out to other schools in Michigan and beyond, which is really exciting to me," says Bryce Porter, industrial design manager. "We're getting a chance to learn side by side with the University."
The pilot has turned parts of campus into a living-learning lab, giving students a front-row seat to the development of emerging technology with the added benefit of enhanced cleaning measures to mitigate risk during the pandemic. It's the latest in a number of investments Tekna has made in WMU.
"Our community means a lot. Western Michigan University means a lot. And supporting that, whether it's through curriculum development or donating our time and effort to support students, all of that has culminated into great relationships in several parts of the University," says Rozewicz, who is also president of the advisory board for WMU's Richmond Institute for Design and Innovation. "What a great opportunity here locally to celebrate great innovation, great product design with a great university and great community partner. I don’t think we’d have it any other way."