Three Purdue graduates have found a way to give back to their local community while potentially saving lives around the world.
Tyler Mantel graduated from Purdue in 2012 with degrees in mechanical and chemical engineering. As demand grew for ventilators and other medical supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mantel co-founded the "Ventilator Project" along with Alex Frost on March 20.
"We are developing a ventilator specifically designed to meet the needs of a coronavirus patient," Mantel said in a statement on the Ventilator Project website.
The statement cited a study from the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University that found there were only 160,000 ventilators available in the United States. It also cited Imperial College London’s prediction that if the U.S. continues its current trajectory, the demand for ventilators could reach 30 times the supply.
Preston Mantel, Tyler's younger brother who graduated from Purdue in 2018, is helping the project on the marketing side.
"It's incredible to be able to help in this time of need," Preston said. "A lot of people are working from home, a lot of people are laid off and have lots of time on their hands. A normal person might just chill, play video games and hang out, but there are people out there that need help."
Preston Mantel said the Ventilator Project plans to produce 1,000 to 5,000 units within the first three days, and between 25,000 and 60,000 units per month after that. In order to do that, though, the team needs funding and support.
"This project cannot succeed without money," Preston said. "We need $100,000 to get through validation and FDA approval and start our first manufacturing run."
The team has raised a total of about $30,000, according to Preston.
Preston's role in the organization is to handle marketing and public relations, getting the word out as far and wide as possible.
"When my brother asked if I could come help, one of the big needs he had was getting media support," Preston said. "He needed somebody to take on the public relations marketing effort with recruiting people, with getting our name out there (and) making people aware of what we are doing."
That's where Jake Thieneman comes in.
Thieneman, a former Boilermaker and current safety on the San Francisco 49ers, was in the same fraternity as Preston at Purdue, Sigma Chi. They were also roommates in Chicago before Thieneman moved to San Francisco. When Tyler first created the project, Preston immediately reached out to Thieneman about helping the cause.
Using his stance as an NFL player and former Boilermaker, Thieneman has spread the word rapidly. In just three weeks, he has done interviews with multiple media outlets in West Lafayette and the San Francisco Bay Area.
"I guess I do have a little bit more of an elevated platform just due to being an NFL player," Thieneman said. "I'm just trying to use that to help promote this cause. This is a cause I believe in, it's a cause I think everyone can get behind. It's a cause that is trying to ultimately save lives."
Thieneman's work has not gone undervalued. The team began with only 15 engineers in the first 72 hours, and quickly grew to over 250 members and supporters over the past three weeks, according to Preston.
"They've expanded this team drastically," Preston said. "It's so crazy to see how helpful people are when you tell them what we're doing. People have come out of the woodwork to offer their services (and) their advice."
The team now has a fully functioning prototype, and Preston said it anticipates FDA testing late this week or early next week.
"Right now they're working on all the quality specifications for the manufacturing, so once we get FDA approval, which we're expecting to get within 24 hours of application, we will be able to begin manufacturing," Thieneman said.
Tyler said on the website that the project’s engineers have the skills necessary to solve their two biggest concerns: "affordable production and faster distribution."
"Normal ventilators cost $25,000 to 50,000," Preston said. "Our price point is under $5,000."
To reduce production costs, Thieneman said the Ventilator Project plans to use alternative materials to those that are traditionally used by hospitals.
"Due to the demand for every medical supply out there, there's not a huge supply of traditional medical supplies," Thieneman said. "Our thought process was to design it using non-medical supply parts that are currently in high supply and we can get access to quickly, and then (we) are not taking away from hospitals."
Using non-medical materials will also ensure they will not run out as quickly as the hospitals, allowing them to continue mass production for an extended period of time, according to Preston.
Preston holds that while the Ventilator Project can and will make a difference, solving this crisis will require even more cooperation.
"This is not a one-company solution," Preston said. "That's just not feasible. What it's really gonna be is an effort by multiple people, multiple organizations coming together and manufacturing what they can.
"The end goal is to make as many as possible so we can save lives."
The Ventilator Project partners with 10 different organizations, including MassRobotics, a group dedicated to aiding "innovative startups and existing technology organizations to nurture the next generation of talent and promote economic growth and innovation,” according to its website.