Smartppe - developing 21st century protection equipment against emerging diseases

Currently available personal protective equipment (ppe) against threats like ebola are inappropriate for use in hospitals in low and middle income countries. The goal of this project is to develop a more efficient ppe using innovative technologies and taking into account the general context of use.

One of the main causes that led the 2013-2016 Ebola crisis in West Africa to reach such proportions was the lack of preparedness of the affected regions to take care of patients, and the difficulty for local and foreign staff to perform their tasks in good conditions. As a matter of fact, the personnel first had to protect themselves against an infection, which required personal protective equipment (PPE). However, PPE available on the market are not adapted to this type of application, especially in a tropical environment and in developing countries, and their implementation turned out to be particularly complicated. PPE currently used in this type of context are single-use, essentially impermeable suits, which poses a number of problems: first, the cost and logistics (procurement, stock management and infectious waste disposal) required by the use of disposable equipment in the mid to long term. Then, the working conditions of the personnel, due to the use of impermeable clothes in a tropical climate; temperature inside the PPE frequently reaches 35°C, and users face a high risk of dehydration. This directly impacts the quality of care provided to the patients. Last, the use of a ragbag collection of items (coverall, apron, goggles, mask, hood, etc...) makes dressing and undressing procedures time-consuming and tedious; this increases the risk of error, especially after one hour of stressful work in rough climatic conditions, which led to many cases of staff contamination. There is thus a need for protective equipment specifically adapted to this context, and it is the market targeted by the company SF Tech. To target the above mentioned issues, three aspects are being investigated: the reusability of the equipment, its ventilation, and the integration of all items into a single suit. SF Tech already worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) on the integration of the different items into a single suit. The proposed project thus targets technological innovations to meet the requirements brought by the reusability and ventilation aspects. Reusability implies that, in addition to offering an efficient protection, the textile must be resistant to many cycles of usage, cleaning, disinfection and drying. The experience of CenTexBel and Seyntex with functional and innovative textiles will be particularly important. Furthermore, developing a new textile will increase the portfolio of products of Seyntex in the medical sector. The challenge regarding the ventilation of the suit is to design a system that can be very easily integrated into the suit, without reducing comfort or adding manipulations (including during disinfection), and that makes as little noise as possible since that impairs communication between the wearer and his/her colleagues or patients. The experience of Sonceboz in designing and manufacturing application specific electrical motors, as well as EPFL's LAI lab's research on very small electromechanical systems, provide very innovative yet realistic possibilities. The overarching challenge in this project is to maintain a link between customer or market needs, including the understanding of the context of use, technology innovation, and its translation into a product that can be successfully deployed. The EssentialTech program of EPFL's Cooperation and Development Center specializes in anticipating the many problems that can arise during technology transfer or product deployment in difficult contexts like low and middle income countries.
Project ID: 
11 272
Start date: 
Project Duration: 
Project costs: 
1 690 000.00€
Technological Area: 
Safety technology
Market Area: 

Raising the productivity and competitiveness of European businesses through technology. Boosting national economies on the international market, and strengthening the basis for sustainable prosperity and employment.