CALIFORNIA, Md. -- A heat sanitization box designed and developed by TechPort UAS Incubator and Community Innovation Hub entrepreneurs to make personal protective equipment (PPE) reusable by frontline health care workers was cleared under guidanceby the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on use of dry heat to support reuse of certain PPE, such as N95 respirators.
TechPort UAS Business Incubator and Community Innovation Hub of Southern Maryland is operated under contract by the University of Maryland. During the past eight months, their 16-feet long, 8-feet wide, and 8-feet high “Hot Box” unit—officially titled the Semi-Automated Heat Bioburden Reduction Module— has undergone FDA testing while in use at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center.
“We are thrilled to reach this stage where all our hard work can now become accessible to health care providers throughout our nation,” said Tommy Luginbill, director of TechPort. “What an incredible experience it has been to pull our Southern Maryland community together to produce an essential tool in the battle against the novel coronavirus.”
Last March, as much of the nation began shutting down business as a result of COVID-19, Luginbill and Matt Hayes, founder and owner of Unmanned Propulsion Development, recognized that as TechPort entrepreneurs they were in an ideal position to help. They initially created masks, shields and gowns, but quickly realized the materials would run out long before the end of the pandemic.
“The idea of constantly using PPE once and throwing it away was not sustainable,” said Hayes, who paused his work on a hybrid gas and electric generator powered propulsion system to lead development of the heat sanitization box and to establish a nonprofit, Southern Maryland Loves You, to support the project. “We realized we could keep producing things people could use only once, or we could come up with a way to reuse those things.”
After studying the characteristics of the virus, how to filter it and chemicals that would destroy it, part of a document he created on COVID-19 for engineers, Hayes determined that universal heat offered a viable solution. Eight companies were approached to help and two local companies based in Southern Maryland, were a perfect fit: Burch Oil and Triton Defense, where the box was built. Capable of disinfecting 24,000 N95 masks per day, or other PPE equipment, the “hot box” can provide healthcare personnel the ability to reuse their gear at least 20 times, saving money and materials. ”It takes about one hour to cycle, not including the time to load and unload the PPE,” Hayes said.
“This work has facilitated real, visibly positive impact in Southern Maryland for health care workers and first responders,” said Dominic Fragman, founder of Spirit of Innovation and a TechPort client. “SOMDLY has also brought positive attention and consideration to TechPort and Southern Maryland on an international scale.”
Fragman used his weekly program broadcast to assist in promoting awareness of the innovation and to recruit volunteers to assist in the early stages of the initiative.
Maryland artists and musicians helped spread awareness of the 'Hot Box' technology through multiple media platforms. Local county officials have also been supportive of the effort.
“We couldn’t be prouder of this manufacturing triumph in Southern Maryland,” said Chris Kaselemis, economic development director for St. Mary's County. “The way TechPort entrepreneurs collaborated with Burch Oil and Triton Defense in a moment of great need is a model for how business relationships can be effective and flourish in the future.”
In issuing the new policy on heat, the FDA notes that this guidance provides a policy for bioburden reduction systems that use dry heat to help support the single-user reuse of certain particulate filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs). This policy applies to FFRs that do not have exhalation valves.
To learn more about the ‘Heat Box’ visit: www.somdlovesyou.org.
TechPort, UAS Business Incubator and Community Innovation Hub of Southern Maryland, is a business incubator, think tank and the center of the Southern Maryland Innovation Zone. Located at St. Mary’s County Airport, TechPort began operations in April 2018 and is supported by the U.S. Navy, St. Mary’s County and the University of Maryland. Its mission is to grow the area’s economic base by accelerating innovation and connecting innovators in the community to resources and tools, while assisting entrepreneurs to create and build new tech based companies. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and other autonomous systems and related technologies are the primary focus of the incubator.