The Icam engineering campus in Toulouse is next door to the city’s Clinique Pasteur, where many Covid-19 patients are treated. When material shortages began to hit, the clinic asked if the Icam school could help. Eric Loupiac of Icam told Connexion: “The clinic first asked us if we would make visors, which were then in short supply, and medical-grade pipes for the machines. We were able to make 200 visors, which we donated, but the medical-grade pipes were not possible with our resources. But then I saw they asked for a method of opening doors without touching them with their hands and I set about designing one.”
First attempts were not successful, but the use of computer-aided design software meant modifications could be made quickly. The resulting design was perfect for the job: a knob, moulded to fit elbow joints, which not only allowed doors to be opened easily but also to be closed using the elbow if needed.
It is made of two pieces of plastic, which screw together securely around an existing door handle. Three-dimensional printers at the college were used to produce 32 handles for the intensive care section of the clinic. Some students at the school, who had been sent home due to the lockdown but who had printers at home, downloaded the instructions and used their own devices to make knobs.
“The trouble is that it takes time – 15 hours for one knob using our printers – so when the clinic then asked for 1,000 to equip all the establishment, it was too much,” said Prof Loupiac. “I have contact with some factories and one of them has been able to make a mould from the design and start to mass-produce the handles.” News of the invention quickly spread among the hospital grapevine and the factory had received orders for 25,000 handles from hospitals and other health establishments in France before it even started production.
Engineers contributing to the fight against coronavirus
Professor Loupiac and Icam are not receiving a centime from his invention. “Even though we do not have medical qualifications like the doctors and nurses who are on the front line, we engineers can also make a contribution to fighting this terrible disease,” he said.
Icam, originally the Institut Catholique d’Arts et Métiers, was established in 1898 by organisations linked to the Jesuit order in the Catholic church, and now has six campuses in France. It has five more in Congo, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India and Brazil, and has around 6,000 students.
Around 600 general engineers qualify from Icam each year in France, half of them via apprenticeships. It also offers diplomas ranging from CAPs through to specialist Master’s degrees, and runs “production schools” where its students help meet orders from industry. It supplements its funds by offering specialised services including research and development, making one-off machines, and testing.