University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Carle Health partner to introduce new PPE products and sterilization processes to meet higher demand

CHAMPAIGN, IL… The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has introduced new Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) products and sterilization processes to support the needs of health care workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to face shield kits announced in mid-April, a team of engineers, physicians, researchers and designers from the university and Carle Health has fabricated N-95 respirator masks; disposable face shields; disposable and reusable gowns; and reusable surgical face masks.

Product design specifications and instructions for use have been made public here: Visitors can download designs and view videos and photos of production and assembly.

“Local healthcare providers tested prototypes of each product, and designs were modified based on user feedback. Finished, sterilized products will be delivered at cost to Carle Foundation Hospital and OSF Healthcare,” said Irfan Ahmad, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Health Maker Lab, Assistant Dean for Research, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and Executive Director for Interdisciplinary Initiatives for the Grainger College of Engineering.

The university tested both large-scale and small-scale sterilization of PPE, Ahmad said. The large-scale sterilization process has been reviewed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is currently under review by the US Food and Drug Administration. For PPE product development, the team sought FDA guidance under Emergency Use Authorizations for PPE.

“The goal is to offer local health care providers the opportunity to sterilize large quantities of reusable PPE at our facilities,” said Lyndon Goodly, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, Director of the Division of Animal Resources, and co-lead on the sterilization project.

The I-PPE initiative has three distinct phases built on the Health Maker Lab node network: prototyping and testing individual products; prototyping small-scale production; and scaling-up to manufacture large quantities, explained Helen Nguyen, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and lead PI on the PPE project.

“We successfully achieved our goals for PPE design and prototyping,” Nguyen said. “Since the university has limited capacity for production, we will be sharing our designs with interested manufacturers capable of medium- to large-scale production to meet the short- and long-term PPE supply needs of local and regional communities.”

Hospitals across the state continue to experience higher than usual demand for PPE, and supply shortages nationwide have made it difficult to secure additional supplies, said Carle Chief Medical Officer Charles Dennis, M.D. “Our partnership with the University of Illinois is helping to mitigate pressure on our PPE supply. Importantly, it has demonstrated the power of collaboration when organizations and communities come together to respond to local challenges.”

The PPE design initiative, led jointly by The Grainger College of Engineering and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Health Maker Lab, has been dubbed “I-PPE” by team leaders. The “I” stands for “Illinois,” “innovation,” and “I” – local manufacturers and community members – can make it.  Several of the university’s colleges, the Krannert Center, the Champaign Urbana Community Fab Lab, local volunteers and others are participating in the effort.

Charitable donations from individuals, families and businesses helped to make the PPE initiative possible. The Krannert Costume Shop, led by Andrea Bouck, quickly mobilized an extraordinary community-based workforce comprised of over 400 local sewers to produce reusable face masks and reusable non-surgical isolation gowns. Quilter Glennys Mensing, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, created the fold-and-cut PPE gown pattern. The innovative pattern dramatically reduces the amount of space, cutting, and time to produce the gown.

“The rapid response, and ‘we can do it’ mentality reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter, has been inspiring. The craftmanship, tenacity and ingenuity of our community embodies the spirit of what it means to be American,” said Catherine Best, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Bioengineering Department, and co-lead on the gowns PPE project.

Donors include Jump ARCHES, which is providing funding for N95 respirator masks. Jump ARCHES is partnership between the Jump Simulation and Education Center at OSF HealthCare and the university’s Health Care Engineering Systems Center. Motorola provided a grant and Carle Illinois College of Medicine made a donation through its Innovation Fund.

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The Health Maker Lab is a network of maker labs and design spaces across the University of Illinois campus. Professionals, students and citizen scientists collaborate, ideate and create unique solutions to global health challenges by prototyping anything at any scale—from molecules to buildings.

Learn more about the Health Maker Lab at