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Interview with Dr. Woo Soo Kim

📷 SFU Applied Sciences

Journalist: Solene Delumeau

Solene: Welcome to SciSection. Today’s interview is with Dr. Woo Soo Kim from Simon Fraser University. Thank you for being here! Could you introduce yourself, and what you do?

Dr. Kim: Of course. My name is Woo Soo Kim, associate professor in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering at SFU. My research group is dedicated to engineering challenges using 3D printing technology. We develop novel 3D printing technologies, new 3D printing materials, and their applications for electronics and robotics. Examples are 3D printed biomedical sensor systems, energy storage devices, and sensing robots. Especially in this Covid-19 pandemic, my team is interested in designing and prototyping of 3D printed portable ventilators.

Solene: Some of our listeners might not be familiar with this, so can you tell us what a ventilator is used for, and who might need one?

Dr. Kim: Sure. A ventilator is simply a breathing machine, it’s a form of life support. A ventilator blows air into the lungs, helping to maintain proper levels of oxygen in the blood. Mechanical ventilators are quite complex machines that can be adjusted to meet the needs of each patient. What we are focusing on in our team is not such a complex system, but the creation of a portable mechanical ventilator.

Solene: What made you want to develop a new design that is different from the ones typically used in hospitals?

Dr. Kim: I’m interested in the democratization of biomedical equipment by making it a cheap solution. The global health crisis has exposed a shortage of ventilators, as we know. Only the ventilators keep critically sick patients alive. While companies like Ford or General Motors had to rush to ramp up the production, this effort is for really expensive equipment- around $3,000 to $5,000 for one ventilator. I’m more interested in making solutions for the lower end, around $500 dollars or so. We had an idea to create a 3D origami tube to replace a normal rubber air bag, which is not always reliable. And 3D design and printing can give us an opportunity of customization of this air volume capacity, depending on the patient’s needs.

Solene: How did you think of the idea of using origami for your ventilator design? Is it commonly used in engineering design?

Dr. Kim: Well, I cannot say it’s common, but as an expert in advanced 3D design and 3D printing technologies, some of my research has been related to architecture design. We call it architectured solid, which is a kind of cellular architecture design, and origami design is an example of one of these. We knew that origami was a design opportunity for air volume creation before. And suddenly popped up the idea of ventilator applications linked to this origami structure, during brainstorming with my team, to help in the Covid-19 pandemic as an engineer.

Solene: As an engineer, was it your first time designing something to be used in the medical sector? Were there any challenges in this sense?

Dr. Kim: Well, development of biomedical sensors has been around in my lab, such as smart rubber bands, or blood-pressure measuring wearables, and sensing robots for hospital settings. These ventilators are new to us. One of the important steps we need to push for is medical approval, this is the first step we need to pass. Another important thing is about acceptability from the hospital or medical staff. So it’s very important to start co-design and collaboration with the biomedical sector, for a user-centered design approach.

Solene: What is the most recent news about your design? Has the prototype been tested by health professionals yet?

Dr. Kim: Right, that’s very important. We started this project in May this year, and we’ve built a first second and third version of the prototype already. So the next step is moving on to study patient groups acceptability and medical approval. It will happen around the end of this year.

Solene: If the design is approved, do you expect that these ventilators could be used not only in Canada, but in other countries too?

Dr. Kim: Of course. The Canadian situation is much better than some neighbouring countries like the USA. So if our origami ventilator is successfully accepted and approved in the hospital setting, then definitely, there should be some needs from the other countries too.

Solene: Finally, is there an important message you would like to give to our audience?

Dr. Kim: I’d like to emphasize the importance of 3D printing technologies. I want to briefly introduce the concept of a Fab City, which is a fabrication city. Basically, a sustainable manufacturing perspective for the future. We could do production and manufacturing inside our community. Sustainable manufacturing can be realized with the democratization of technology, and I believe 3D printing will play an important role in the future of sustainable manufacturing.

Solene: Thank you for your insight, Dr. Kim! That brings us to the end of the interview. Thank you for joining us today! To all our listeners, make sure to check out our podcast for the latest interviews.


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