Leveraging Design to Solve a PPE Shortage

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Mihai Hogea

A shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) among health care workers has led quick-thinking individuals to create innovative solutions in a short period of time. Among those people is Institute of Design alumnus Mihai Hogea (MDM ’18).

Hogea, who co-founded the kitchen technology company Pepper Life Inc. with his brother, Andrei Hogea (M.Des./M.B.A. ’18), in 2016, returned from a trip to Germany as the novel coronavirus was beginning to rapidly spread in the United States. At about the same time, Chicago-based hard-tech incubator mHUB—in collaboration with fellow Chicago incubators MATTER and 1871—put out a call for designers to work on life-saving protective and medical equipment.

“I was advocating for this idea that designing PPE is a really easy win. I knew I could knock out a mask really quickly because I had been doing it for so long,” says Hogea.

Hogea—who created multiple sleep apnea mask designs while working at Philips, including the first commercially available textile sleep apnea mask—and his collaborators realized a shortage of PPE would be one of the biggest issues facing health care workers after receiving a call from Northwestern Medicine informing them of their concern over a lack of face shields.

Working with mHUB co-founder and director of innovation services Bill Fienup and three other designers and mHUB staff members, the group designed and prototyped a shield within two hours. The shield at first glance looks like a typical medical face shield but is deliberately designed to be as simple as possible.

It is cut from two pieces of polystyrene fastened with an elastic band. When the band is pulled taught around the wearer’s head, the face shield bends into place. Any individual with the manufacturing capability can download the instructions to build the masks online and send them to facilities in need. One face shield can be produced by an individual with access to a laser cutter in a under five minutes, says Hogea.

More than 20 volunteers at mHUB were able to create a production line at the incubator’s manufacturing facility that produced roughly 6,000 masks within three days of completing the design, according to mHUB. Five hundred masks were purchased by Northwestern Medicine, while thousands of others were donated to other Chicago hospitals in need.

“I just felt that I could leverage my experience in a short burst to help support the situation,” says Hogea. “I’m super thankful for the people at mHUB who are actually producing and assembling all these products.”