How techies in Belarus help prevent the spread of COVID-19 with EU help

11-05-2020

Hundreds of protective face shields, fittings and devices for supplying and humidifying oxygen are manufactured every day at the ‘Polytechnic’ Science and Technology Park of the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU).

Part of the work is done in the FABLAB rapid prototyping laboratory. The facility was established by the EU project ‘Creation of the network infrastructure to support innovative youth entrepreneurship at production laboratories’ within the Erasmus+ programme. The aim of the project was to develop a stimulating environment for engineering and entrepreneurship.

Up to 200 protective face shields per day

BNTU produces up to 200 protective face shields and between 50 and 80 oxygen humidifiers on a daily basis.

Natalya Mikhailovskaya is an epidemiologist at the Minsk Centre for Hygiene, Epidemiology and Public Health, and Head of the Monitoring Department for Hospital-Acquired Infections. According to the expert, face shields help keep medical staff safe:

“It has been proven that COVID-19 can be contracted if the virus makes contact with a person’s eyes. The shields protect this part of the face.”

Several structural divisions of BNTU are working hard to support physicians in Belarus: the Experimental Mechanical Division for Medical Equipment, the Scientific and Innovative Division for Medical Equipment, the rapid prototyping laboratory FABLAB, the mechanical workshops of the Department of Mechanics and Technology and the departments of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship. The project is led by Pavel Lushchik, Deputy Director-General for Innovation at the ‘Polytechnic’ Science and Technology Park.

“’Polytechnic’ is engaged in various types of activities, and we recently started making face shields and equipment for supplying and humidifying oxygen. On average, each hospital orders 50 face shields and about the same number of oxygen supply devices," says Pavel.

Many university students, undergraduates and graduates volunteer their time to get involved. Workers are recruited through the trade union committee and BNTU's telegram channel.

BNTU student Sergey Kot visits the laboratory almost every day to help with face shield assembly.

“It is quite interesting, and not stressful at all,” the young man says. Sergey finds motivation in the fact that his work is essential for medical personnel, and wants to do his part in preventing the spread of the virus.

BNTU also understands the importance of protecting its own workers. The university provides personal protective equipment, while every entrance to the building and every floor are supplied with hand sanitiser. The premises are regularly cleaned and disinfected.

Orders are increasing by the day

Yuriy Alekseyev, Director of the Science and Technology Park, says ‘Polytechnic’ has everything it needs in terms of resources, equipment and personnel. He points out that BNTU uses its own funds to buy the material for the face shields.

“So far, we have been able to meet the demand for equipment, but more orders come in every day, so we need to increase the volume of production. The equipment is supplied based on priority. We have already delivered face shields, oxygen humidifiers and fittings to Fourth Minsk City Children's Clinic, Fifth Minsk City Clinical Hospital, the Minsk Regional Tuberculosis Dispensary, the Main Military Clinical Centre, the Republican Clinical Medical Centre, and the central district hospitals of Vilejka and Kobryn,” explains Yuriy.

‘Polytechnic’ is currently making medical equipment for the central district hospitals of Uzda, Asipovičy, Ščučyn and Pinsk, First Viciebsk City Clinical Hospital, Minsk Regional Children's Clinical Hospital, Minsk City Children's Infectious Diseases Clinical Hospital, Tenth Minsk City Clinical Hospital, the Republican Centre for Rehabilitation and Balneotherapy, and other hospitals in Minsk.

All BNTU products are delivered free of charge with support from the BYCOVID19 public initiative, which coordinates fundraising and the organisation of assistance.

Using cutting-edge technology

A total of 10 3D printers, both personal and university-owned, are used to make the medical equipment, while assembly takes place in the FABLAB laboratory.

Among other EU-funded devices, the laboratory has 3D printers with a set of maintenance tools, a milling and engraving machine, a laser engraving and cutting machine, and robot constructors.

Yuriy says FABLAB allows youth teams and research students with innovative ideas and projects to use cutting-edge equipment to produce preliminary designs and prototypes.

“The laboratory is fully equipped for these purposes. In addition, the units of the Science and Technology Park have modern research and technological equipment as well. Students, undergraduates and graduates can also use the services and equipment of other departments of the park and its residents,” says the Director of ‘Polytechnic’.

Author: Elena Spasyuk

This article was initially published in Russian on the Naviny.by website.

FABLAB Belarus on the frontline against COVID-19