The Air-Hood for Covid Protection

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Technical lecture
15 October 2021 11:30 - 12:30
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This Process Industries Division Event has been organised by the Process Industries Division Centres in the North West and Yorkshire Regions.

Personal Protective Equipment used in the healthcare sector has been the focus of much public interest since Covid hit.  Yet almost all of the furore has been around the availability of simple surgical or face-fitting masks that were never designed for the purpose of protecting against highly infectious agents.  Little or no attention by media or government has been given to the consideration that the traditional face-worn mask is actually inadequate to give the level of protection needed against a new and easily contracted virus.  The fact the healthcare workers were dying when they had the standard PPE available, hardly got a mention in the news.

The crisis also exposed the weakness of the move to an all-disposable culture in the NHS, together with government reliance on “cheapest bidder wins” (which in practice means getting everything from China) without any consideration of robustness of supply chains, let alone the effect on UK employment.  This long standing trend towards “use once and throw it away” has been favoured due to it being cheaper to get a new item made in China and shipped half way around the world, than to clean and re-use.  But when there is a sudden rise in demand all around the world because all of a sudden every healthcare, social care and home care worker needs four or more masks every day instead of one occasionally, such an approach fails catastrophically to meet the need, and as a result many of the people we rely on to help us in a healthcare emergency were dying needlessly.

Contrast this with practice in industry, where substances such as asbestos, highly active drug materials, paints that contain cyanide compounds and so on are handled and used safely every day by tens of thousands of workers up and down the UK, using equipment that gives very much higher levels of protection and does not need replacing four times a day.

This presentation will show how a group of engineers from the solids handling community have come together, led by two members of the IMechE Bulk Materials Handling Committee, to use their expertise to try to find a solution to the above problems, not just looking for a technical solution but also looking for ways to get it into the hands of users, and ultimately founding a new start-up company to take it to market.  The inspiration and the technical development turned out to be the easy bit.  The adventures of trying to get the solution out there exposed the “not-invented-here” attitudes of large companies who supposedly have reputations for innovation, the contrasting and often opposing attitudes of different government agencies, and the well-intentioned culture of regulatory compliance becoming a dead hand stifling technical innovation and market entry to new companies.  By comparison, the challenges of establishing a new materials and manufacturing supply chain through a global crisis proved interesting, but not he greatest difficulty

When it comes to having the agility to use our knowledge and expertise to deal with a crisis, we have a lot to learn as a society.  Never before in history have we had the level of ability to come up with innovative and effective solutions, and the fast means to get them into production.  But the difficulties in the rest of the process, seem to stand in the way of our deploying those abilities.  Perhaps the lessons from this adventure, will help us all to reflect on how we could be better prepared in future to meet such demands. 

We effectively “dodged a bullet” with Covid because the lethality wasn’t very high – about 1% - so our poor response wasn’t a catastrophe.  Compare this with Spanish ‘Flu of 1918 which had a lethality of 3% - 5% or other SARS viruses which have shown lethality of up to 30%.  Think on . . .   


Mike Bradley is Professor in Particle and Bulk Technology, Director of the Wolfson Centre for Bulk Solids Handling Technology and Head of the Greenwich Manufacturing Group at the University of Greenwich. He was awarded both his honours degree and PHD from Thames Polytechnic (now the University of Greenwich) and, as manager/director, provides technical leadership in all aspects of bulk solids handling. His particular areas of interest lie in pneumatic conveying, design of hoppers and silos, dust control, plant integration and maintenance of product quality. He is Chair of Solids Handling and Processing Association (SHAPA), and a member of Materials Handling Engineers Association (MHEA) and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Bulk Materials Handling Committee (IMechE). He was awarded a professorship in 2006 and the directorship in 2008. 

Stephen McEvoy recently gained CEng status with the IMechE after graduating with an MSc in Mechanical Engineering from Lancaster University in 2019. He was the winner of the 2020 IMechE Most Distinguished Developing Career award, and during the COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for the production of over 2000 3D printed visors..


Michael Bradley, Stephen McEvoy


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