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McMaster alumnus helps Ford produce powered air-purifying respirators for health care workers

Walter LaPlante, McMaster electrical engineering alumnus and systems engineer at Ford Advanced Manufacturing, is working on a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) for frontline health care workers who are helping COVID-19 patients. Ford’s Vreeland facility near Flat Rock, Michigan will produce more than 100,000 respirators. LaPlante shared more details about the project, his involvement and his advice to students during this unprecedented time.

Q: Can you describe the powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) project Ford is undergoing to fight COVID-19?

A: Ford has partnered with 3M to produce PAPRs to meet the surge in demand for first responders and health care workers. 

The PAPR includes a hood and face shield to cover health care professionals’ heads and shoulders, while a high-efficiency (HEPA) filter system provides a supply of filtered air for up to 8 hours. The air blower system – similar to the fan found in F-150’s ventilated seats – is powered by a rechargeable, portable battery, helping keep the respirator in constant use by first-line defenders.

Q: Can you describe your involvement in the project?

A: I focus on giving what the process engineers need. Some processes require vision systems error proofing such as filter orientation to ensure the filter system is correctly aligned with the airflow, 2D read for added traceability, and PAPR feature detection. The vision cameras would need to programmed with real-time results going back to the operator by means of controls systems. That's another big part of my involvement as a systems engineer.

 Q: When will the project be completed?

 A: The PAPR units will be built by about 90 paid UAW volunteers over the next few months, when the COVID-19 cases are expected to peak.

 Q: What is your advice to our students during this unprecedented time?

A: Stay strong, brave and courageous while staying informed. Do not let herd mentality and fear get to you. The world needs you to be who you are.