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COVID-19 Shows the Power of Collaboration With New PPE Decontamination System



A Shortage of PPE for Frontline Workers


As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified across the United States, governments and frontline workers tackled a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Early on in the health crisis, as it became known that the virus spread through the air, a mad rush ensued for consumers and frontline workers alike to procure PPE, notably N95 masks.


Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these tight-fitting masks filter roughly 95% of airborne particles, meaning that they reduce the risk of frontline workers contracting COVID-19. For medical professionals and workers in essential industries, these masks ensure that the country can continue operating. A shortage of these masks across the country, and the high-expense in purchasing additional units, was in itself a crisis.


In early April, Bell Decon, a growing decontamination technologies provider, approached Estabrook with an idea to build a new PPE decontamination system. Estabrook has a strong history of working with Bell Decon, as Estabrook builds controllers for many of their systems. As such, Bell Decon's extensive knowledge of decontamination systems and Estabrook's engineering & programming expertise made this project a success.


Capitalizing on N95 Reuse With the GDS Regen


In the quest to procure additional N95 mask units, ideas emerged to decontaminate & reuse existing units. If frontline, essential workers reused decontaminated N95 masks, then they could be protected for an extended time while manufacturers produced enough N95 masks to meet the global demand. The strategy of decontaminating and reusing these masks formed the foundation of the GDS Regen™.


When developing plans for the GDS Regen™, the system needed to have:

  1. An ability to be used multiple times per day

  2. A large enough capacity to hold thousands of N95 masks in a cycle

  3. Simple user experience in loading and operating the device

  4. The capability to have the cycle be fully automated

  5. Multiple sizes, for small-scale and large-scale deployments

The final manufactured system achieves all of this and more. The GDS Regen™ is a highly-advanced biological decontamination system that can decontaminate both N95 masks and other equipment. The finished device serves an important role in keeping frontline workers safe and slowing the spread of COVID-19 domestically.



All Hands on Deck for the GDS Regen


Estabrook worked on all aspects of the build. While Bell Decon provided the equipment for the system, Estabrook had an instrumental part in assembling, engineering, and programming the device. This versatility speaks to Estabrook’s commitment to be a one-stop-shop for industrial partners in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. Estabrook’s team, while substantially growing over the decades, has maintained its expertise as a tenet of its success in collaborating with partners, like Bell Decon.


The shortage of PPE for healthcare workers was the catalyst behind building this system in an expedited time frame. As Rich Zsigray, Estabrook's Chief Operating Officer put it, "These systems would typically take us two months. We got it done under five weeks. It was an all hands on deck operation. Our team worked around the clock, sometimes all night, to get the system finished."


Estabrook's roots as a small family repair shop back in 1965 remained visible in the passion of their engineering, manufacturing, and programming teams who worked on the project. "We knew this system needed deploying as soon as possible to help fight the virus," Zsigray said. This sense of urgency propelled the project’s team, with backgrounds in a variety of products & services, forward in assembling the 20’ system. Additionally, the GDS Regen™ comes in two more sizes: 10' and a smaller system for labs with a two-foot enclosure.


The Challenge of Concurrent Assembly and Engineering


The condensed time frame to assemble the GDS Regen™ led to the assembly of the system occurring at the same time as its engineering. "That was probably the biggest challenge," said Darren Timura, a Control Systems Engineer at Estabrook. "Things were changing daily. For example, we would spec out a part that wouldn't be available for ten weeks and subsequently need to change the design and assembly to incorporate a Plan B." In short, Timura says, "Every day brought a new challenge."


The new GDS Regen™ is a substantially larger version of previously designed Bell Decon systems. Timura compares the new system’s development to a house. "We had the house design. We just had to figure out how to make it much larger with more features," he stated. The increased size led to additional considerations when engineering and assembling, including:

  • The safety equipment necessary to include

  • Interior lighting elements

  • Heating within the insulated container

  • Fans for airflow

  • Two-times as many sensors to monitor cycles


The Estabrook team and Bell Decon continually collaborated to ensure the inclusion of all necessary components while maintaining simple operation and service.


A Next-Generation Decontamination System


The GDS Regen™ is fully automated, meaning that once an operator starts a cycle, it can run on its own from start to completion. Utilizing vaporous hydrogen peroxide, the system can decontaminate a variety of equipment and N95 masks in a given cycle. Moreover, the system includes:

  • A collection of advanced sensors to monitor temperature, humidity, and hydrogen peroxide concentration

  • Next-Gen Aeration™ technology for continued optimization plus reduced cycle time

  • An extensive aeration exhaust and pressure control system, fully integrated

Tim Meilander, President of M2DCON, the parent company of Bell Decon, compares the GDS Regen™ to running a home dishwasher. Simply with the push of a button, the system can decontaminate the equipment in four-to-five hours. Moreover, even though the system comes with pre-programmed cycles, the user can modify these depending on the implementation.


As the system decontaminates the masks and equipment within, the exhaust feature turns the hydrogen peroxide vapor into water vapor and oxygen to prevent chemicals from entering the air. Interestingly, the interior compartment has a small negative pressure, preventing leaks. The doors to load & unload equipment have louvers that allow fresh air to enter during the aeration cycle.


Thousands of Masks Per Cycle


With the 20' model, the GDS Regen™ can decontaminate roughly 6,000 N95 masks in each cycle! However, for other pieces of equipment, the stainless steel racks can be modified or removed. The system's capacity and cycle time make the GDS Regen™ invaluable to frontline workers. Each cycle is completed in under five hours and has a:

  1. Conditioning Phase (30 minutes)

  2. Decontamination Phase (30 minutes)

  3. Aeration Phase (3-4 hours)


The vaporous hydrogen peroxide sterilization is a widely used decontamination technology, per Meilander. The strategy is used in healthcare, pharmaceutical, food & beverage, and military settings. The GDS Regen™ minimizes damage to the masks and equipment during decontamination by using a dry hydrogen peroxide process.


Heading to the Frontlines


After five weeks and hundreds of man-hours, Estabrook and Bell Decon saw the GDS Regen™ off on May 15. The system now moves to its home in Chicago, Illinois. Upon arrival, the system will be installed and fully operational by the end of the month.


"It was an honor to work on this project," said Zsigray. "To work on a system that will have an immediate, large impact is extraordinary. We're grateful to Bell Decon for the opportunity." The GDS Regen™ is just one example of Estabrook's wide-ranging industrial equipment expertise. Day-in and day-out, Estabrook works to engineer and assemble systems large and small for corporations.


With its Total System Solutions approach, Estabrook can take the requirements of a partner, like Bell Decon, and use in-house capabilities to design, engineer, and manufacture a system. This strategy lessens the need (and cost) of outsourcing and allows projects to be completed in a shorter time frame. The Total System Solutions philosophy drives the operations of Estabrook each day.


Interested in working with Estabrook on a project? Please contact us today.

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