Mechanical ventilator from the 1960s inspires Delft engineers

News - 14 April 2020 - Webredactie 3ME

Today, a team of Delft researchers and students from the BioMechanical Engineering department is launching a new type of ventilator that is purely mechanical and which you could easily construct and repair yourself. The team borrowed a 1960s ventilator from Rijksmuseum Boerhaave and used it as inspiration. As it works mechanically, no electronics are required. This is particularly advantageous since its production is not dependent on the โ€“ now uncertain โ€“ supply of parts from China.

The researchers got the sixty-year-old item from the collection up and running again, and disassembled it part by part in order to come up with ideas. The device turned out to be so ingeniously constructed that they used it as the starting point for their plans. However, this violated museum rules: objects in the collection may not usually be turned on or taken apart. On this occasion, the museum made an exception.

โ€œItโ€™s fantastic that this new generation of inventors has been inspired by solutions from the past. This proves that our museum collection is invaluable for everyday life. It also perfectly reflects what we are: a platform for the future,โ€ says Amito Haarhuis, director of Rijksmuseum Boerhaave.

Air for All

Project Inspiration is part of Air for All, an umbrella initiative of TU Delft that consists of three projects. The first project is OperationAIR, where a team of students developed the AIRone within just a few weeks. This is a working prototype of a simplified ventilator that is relatively easy to scale up and can serve as an emergency solution in the event of a shortage of regular ventilators. The second project is led by researcher Amir Zadpoor, who is testing the first prototypes of a ventilator that consists entirely of standard parts. It is hoped that this design will be able to respond to the demand for ventilators and offer a solution to the logistical problems resulting from a shortage of specific components.

Project Inspiration

The investigation team chose an appropriate name: Project Inspiration. Their primary aim was to make a mechanical ventilator using parts that are readily available. This device can therefore be easily constructed and repaired by anyone, even in less developed countries. Project Inspiration is already being approached by various countries, such as Guatemala, where there is high demand for these kind of practical solutions. The students are currently checking the technical specifications against the availability of parts in those countries.

 โ€œIn the original device, the humidifier is made from a pressure cooker and the gearbox from a bicycle hub. At first it might seem absurd to use these parts in a medical device, but on reflection itโ€™s actually incredibly smart. These parts are very reliable and widely available,โ€ says Gerwin Smit, assistant professor at TU Delft and head of Project Inspiration.

The pressure curves produced by the device and associated monitoring system need to be calibrated precisely in order to satisfy the requirements of medical support devices. The team called upon the help of students and researchers from other degree programmes to optimise the curves. In order to do so, the bicycle hubs were replaced by an adjustable engine control unit. In addition, medical staff at Erasmus MC regularly provided input to ensure that the device functions properly in clinical settings. An application for medical certification has been submitted for the developed prototype. Hopefully it will be eligible for the so-called emergency procedure, meaning that the decision will be announced within two to three weeks. The teamโ€™s next step is to raise funds and attract companies to manufacture the device.

The Infected! exhibition

On Wednesday 15 April, King Willem-Alexander was to open Infected! at Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, an exhibition devoted to the outbreak of infectious diseases through the ages. The medical collection of Rijksmuseum Boerhaave encompasses five centuries of medical history. The museum is using the temporary closure to add stories and objects to the exhibition that reflect the current coronavirus period. The story of the students on the Project Inspiration team and their smart solution will also be included in the new Infected! exhibition.

Read this article on the pages of Rijksmuseum Boerhaave: Museaal beademingsapparaat van snelkookpan en fietsnaaf inspireert studenten (only in Dutch).
Please, visit for more information. 


TU Delft Science Information officer 
Carola Poleij