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From Diagnostics to Masks: How a Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge Winner Is Helping Front-line Health Workers

This Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge winner is now helping front-line health workers by using its technology to make vital PPE for heath workers.

OmniVis developed a handheld, IoT device that detects cholera in water samples within 30 minutes of collection. Until now, that process took over a week. Shorter detection times can reduce illness and death from the disease. The biotechnology company was a second runner-up in the 2017 Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge. The challenge recognizes entrepreneurs who are using technology to address a social or environmental problem.

Now, the team behind OmniVis is using Solidworks to design the OmniMask, which is a tool that they typically use for designing their diagnostics device technology. OmniMask is a 3D-printed mask that was developed to protect front line health workers who don’t have access to enough personal protective equipment (PPE). OmniMask is unique because it is compatible with faces of various shapes and sizes. Using easily accessible materials, OmniMask was designed to be open-source for facilities with 3D printers.

The design and prototype process behind OmniMask

Jordan Florian, Global Health Engineer at OmniVis, and Michelle Florian, Finance and Grants Manager, teamed up to spearhead OmniMask. The married couple’s journey started on a Sunday morning at their home in Indianapolis, Indiana. After spending an entire week working from home, Michelle and Jordan felt there was more they could do to help health workers who were caring for patients with COVID-19.

“We have a lot of family and friends in healthcare and saw things on social media from people who didn’t have PPE. There were designs online for 3D- printed masks, but we could tell they were less than ideal,” said Jordan. The designs he found were very rigid around a user’s face, and there were a lot of gaps. Anyone with a face shape that deviated from the “norm” wouldn’t be able to wear the typical 3D mask.

Michelle and Jordan came up with an idea for a mask that would print completely flat and would form to the user’s face. According to Jordan, the first version was “pretty bad.” After trying it on, they started drawing on the mask, cutting it, and folding it back out. They analyzed the issues on a computer, so they knew what to change, which made the iteration process extremely fast compared to what they usually do with diagnostics.

Making sure OmniMask is accessible and fits everyone

Katherine Clayton, Co-Founder & CEO of OmniVis, suggested trying the mask on different faces. Michelle and Jordan took turns trying on masks and made a few more tweaks. The mask can be customized by applying heat, like from a hairdryer, while wearing the mask. This customized fit ensures there are no gaps or leaks, which is essential when designing a mask with a high-grade filter. Katherine also helped Jordan and Michelle scale down the mask for kids who may suffer from health issues that put them at higher risk of disease – adopting a user-centered design approach, so anyone can use the product.

After that, it was about finalizing the materials. They decided to use PLA filament, which is a pretty standard 3D printer material. “Instead of making customized material, we wanted to make it accessible. We respect those special design materials, but we need to make sure that things are easily sourced,” Michelle shared. Another unique aspect of their design is the filter, which needed to be up-to-par with the standard N95 filters. To make OmniMask accessible, they used hospital-grade furnace filters that they were able to source online. The filter blocks particulates of 0.3 microns or larger, the same as the N95. The filter is a little circle about 1.75 inches in diameter. Right now, they are sending about 10 to 20 filters with each mask. They recommend only 8 hours of use per each filter. You can wipe down the OmniMask after each use and put in a new filter.

Pivoting Operations from the Cholera Testing Kit to OmniMasks

When it came to pivoting their operations from the cholera testing kit to OmniMask, Katherine shared that it has been a balance. OmniVis will always focus on diagnostics because they believe in the importance of prevention and its ability to change the course of disease outbreaks. “Michelle and Jordan fit the cultural values that OmniVis has, making medical devices for good and helping to prevent the spread of disease,” Katherine said.

From a business perspective, as a for-profit company, OmniVis needs to be sustainable. But Katherine expressed that they believe charging for OmniMask is not right during a time of need. OmniMask is an open-source product, so someone else in another part of the world can make it. “Our overall vision is to prevent disease. The way we usually do that is by giving people a way to detect disease. In this case, what came to us is how the transmission of such a contagious virus can be stopped with the right type of mask. OmniMask is something we can do for the world, on our own time,” said Jordan.

With generous funding from Peace First, they are distributing OmniMask to health care workers and individuals who are at higher risk of infection on a local scale first, with 20 distributed so far and 25 orders pending. “We are hoping to find partners who can donate funds that we can use specifically to make and distribute the OmniMask. Our hope and intention are to reach as many people as we can with the partners that we gain,” Michelle shared. Katherine added that they are looking for partners to help them scientifically test the OmniMask and see how well it does at protecting individuals. The team is also hoping to find a partner to help them figure out the best way to make the filters, since not everyone has access to a laser cutter and the filters need to be cut into small circles.

Working together to design and deliver PPE

Katherine advised others who are interested in designing PPE to approach it from the perspective of working together, instead of the usual competitive mindset. Jordan has some additional advice: “It’s not about profiting from this. Unfortunately, we have seen that, and that is one of the big reasons we aren’t charging for OmniMask. You need to approach it with a global health-compassionate mindset, or you won’t have the right intentions when you make your product.”

If you are interested in learning more about OmniVis and their response to COVID-19, please visit their COVID-19 Response Center. OmniVis plans to make the OmniMask file available to the public, so anyone with a 3D printer can make one from home. OmniVis is looking to partner with third party testing facilities to determine mask efficacy and to find manufacturing partners for scale-up. If you are interested in a partnership or donating funds to help with the testing, manufacturing, or distribution of OmniMask, please contact the team directly.

Previously posted on the Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility News blog and the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: Cisco

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