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miércoles, 23 de junio 2021
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UdeA Engineers Design Quick-Assembly Portable ICUs for COVID-19 patients

by Jennifer Restrepo - Journalist
Translation by José López

The project, known as Adjustable Hygienic Modules, meets all biosecurity standards required for healthcare personnel. The portable ICUs are easy to transport and require little manufacturing and assembly time.

The modules are designed to be used as small, buildable intensive care units with capacity for four patients and six doctors. These units meet all aseptic standards for the treatment of patients in controlled environments, especially those with infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

The capacity of the Lego-like buildable structures can be expanded to accommodate up to 32 patients. The Adjustable Hygienic Modules (MHiAs, by its acronym in Spanish) are made of materials commonly used in the food, pharmaceutical and hospital industries.

The project consists of a minimum autonomous unit with capacity for four beds, as well as a scalable unit that can accommodate up to 16 beds. Expansion is done by adding new modules, a quick process that doesn’t interrupt the treatment of patients who are already being cared for.

In addition to increasing the capacity to serve patients who require intensive care, the modules are also designed to operate as bio-secure environments for healthcare personnel.
Two Maximum Scalable Units can be assembled in just one and a half weeks

The design, manufacture and implementation of the prototype was carried out jointly between UdeA Faculty of Pharmaceutical and Food Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering, as well as a team of architects and designers of Universidad Nacional, and the participation of Construhigienica and Tecnnova, two local companies serving in the fields of project execution, technology and innovation.

"This project aims to prevent contamination in areas where patients are located, therefore, it is different from other spaces that are currently in use for care of COVID-19 patients. The buildable modules can be adjusted to the specific needs of a certain environment," says Juan Carlos Amaya, a professor at the UdeA Faculty of Pharmaceutical and Food Sciences.

The units were designed based on other similar projects, such as the Chinese hospital built in just 10 days, which meets the strictest biosafety standards.

"After investigating COVID-19 cases in Spain and Italy, we found that healthcare personnel are at high risk of infection, especially if it involves assembling transient clinical settings in places such as stadiums, where patients are placed in beds separated only by curtains, and no presence of areas of biosecurity for doctors and nurses", says Juan Fernando Bermudez, CEO of Construhigienica.

Patient rooms have a fully controlled environment in order to guarantee the safety of the healthcare personnel.

The portable facilities are equipped with biosecurity signaling for each area, as well as filtration and treatment systems for controlled environments with reduction of viruses and microorganisms. The modules are divided into three areas classified according to international biosecurity standards. Each division has an entrance door, a sanitary unit and medical supply storage.

Controlled circulation areas for patients and staff are marked in yellow, the medical staff must wear personal protective equipment.

100% Made in Colombia

In order to guarantee the safety of the healthcare personnel, UdeA's Mechanical Engineering Department equipped the modules with air conditioning, thermal comfort, refrigeration, and pressure and air flow control valves.

"As for the electrical system, the portable ICUs are conditioned to withstand the use of mechanical fans and drug pumps, which represents a major electrical requirement. To meet this need, UdeA's Electrical Engineering Department provided the units with electric power system, power outlets, lighting system and control rooms. The units can be operated either with conventional energy or a power plant. In a more advanced model that we are currently studying we will explore the use of alternative energy, we are analyzing all the possibilities," said Mauricio Correa, Director of the Faculty of Engineering Extension Office.

The modules also have wastewater collection and drainage systems consisting of a tank where the water is first disinfected, then the water goes either to a treatment plant or the public sewer, depending on the conditions of the place where the MHiA is located.


The dimensions and the material from which the modules are made facilitate transportation by air, water and land.

The first prototype will be built at the UdeA facilities. The promoters of the project highlighted that the definitive designs have already been completed, so that construction and assembly of the units can be started at any time, however, funding is required.

According to Marcela Cardona González, an industrial designer, the production cost of a minimum autonomous unit ranges between 1,200 and 1,500 million pesos (about USD 340,000-400,000), while a maximum scalable unit can cost between 1,900 and 2,200 million pesos (USD 500,000-600,000).

The units are equipped with up to 6 medical stations

According to Cesar Ruiz, CEO of Tecnnova, an innovation and technology company supporting the project, this is a groundbreaking project that provides effective solutions to the current global problem through the use of local science and research skills. "From the business point of view, the advantage of this project lies in its business model, the mobility offered by the prototype is very interesting since it can be installed anywhere. For example, this project represents an important business opportunity in areas with precarious medical and hospital environments, such as the Amazon region of Colombia, where COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed. In addition, the modules can be rapidly expanded as demand increases, a task that would be more difficult to carry out in a traditional building”, Ruiz said.

The Adjustable Hygienic Modules (MHiAs) offer an effective and reliable hospital care solution to the COVID-19 crisis, which could also be used in the future in the pharmaceutical and food industries due to its versatile design and multipurpose characteristics.

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