Penn State University develops disposable stethoscope

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | July 14, 2020
Different departments at Penn State have developed together a disposable, single-patient stethoscope for frontline workers battling COVID-19.
Students and faculty at Penn State University have teamed up to develop disposable, single-patient stethoscopes for front-line healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

The university’s college of engineering collaborated with Penn State Health and the Center for Medical Innovation at Penn State College of Medicine to create the device, and are now in the process of mass producing a final product.

“As someone who studies engineering design, I’m fascinated with the pace of the design processes needed to produce critical medical products for this crisis,” said Jessica Menold, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering, in a statement. “The near-constant communication between MASC and the medical center is a real catalyst for engineering design innovation.”

MASC refers to the universitywide Manufacturing and Sterilization for COVID-19 Initiative, a consortium of more than 350 researchers who create and implement scalable solutions for communities in Pennsylvania and who are assisting in the development of the stethoscope. The idea to make it disposable was based on additional COVID-19 precautions and the needs of physicians at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

The initial design consisted of silicone food-grade tubing, which is typically used to make beer; handmade silicone earpieces made from a 3D printed mold; an automotive brake line; and a 3D-printed cover and diaphragm. The engineers produced and delivered 100 stethoscopes to Hershey Medical Center for testing, where a team of physicians and medical students modified the design over the next two weeks to improve acoustic quality and reduce the number of parts and assembly time. They also worked to reduce the cost of the stethoscopes to enable larger-scale production.

“Working as a smaller team with such varied expertise and background really helped us to think outside the box and develop a simple, yet effective, solution,” said Sarah Ritter, associate teaching professor of engineering design.

Hershey Medical Center is moving forward with the mass production of a final stethoscope. It is working with industry partners to finalize a manufacturable design that can be mass produced in a GMP facility to address the urgent need.

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