Peter Jensen, self-appointed curator and Master Plumbers’ National Councillor, takes us into the archives to see the treasures of a bygone era.
Fighting the pandemic has needed skills from our industry. Kathryn Kernohan reports on how Master Plumbers’ member organisation, Westaflex, answered the call to manufacture a product, which now supports frontline health care workers.
Westaflex has provided customers with quality heating, ventilation and air conditioning products for more than 45 years - with the health care sector one of the industries it regularly services.
But when COVID-19 hit Australia in early 2020, Westaflex shifted its focus to help manufacture an innovative new product for the industry - one that supported frontline health care workers in their fight against the pandemic.
“It was April 2020 when we were first approached to assist with the concept of an ICU hood, and the first deliveries of products were made to Western Health a couple of months later, so it all happened very quickly,” remembers Michael Sterling, General Manager of Sales and Marketing at Westaflex.
The concept of an ICU hood - a personalised ventilation hood to protect health care workers from catching COVID-19 while treating sick patients - came about when Associate Professor Forbes McGain from Western Health contacted Professor Jason Monty, head of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne.
“We met with Professor Monty to talk through their concept and to demonstrate it, they had grabbed bits and pieces from shelves at Bunnings to prove the system would do what they were after. It was our job to look at purpose-built equipment to ensure it would be quiet and efficient,” says Michael.
The personalised hood, now known as the McMonty Medihood, is designed to be installed behind a hospital bed and to cover a patient’s upper body and is large enough to accommodate other medical equipment. It reduces the risk of infection for health care workers, while allowing for easy communication and visual welfare checks.
The unit has a fan at the rear to pull air over the patient, and a high-efficiency H13 filter to clean and scrub the air of small droplets of the virus. This is vital protection, as droplets expelled through coughing, sneezing and speaking are a key way in which COVID-19 is transmitted.
“This is more about protecting our health care workers - we know that the patients are already sick and in the hands of professionals for treatment. This creates a physical barrier between health care workers and patients, to reduce the spread of the virus, and ensure they can still deliver quality health care.”
The hoods were successfully trialled at Western Health, and similar versions are now being used in hospitals in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.
“The products seem to be doing really well but there was an issue where patients with dementia could get scared by the hood being on them. So we worked on building the same system that can be presented as a tower next to the patient while providing the same level of protection to health care workers,” says Michael.
Just eight weeks passed from concept to prototype testing to production and installation of these adapted units.
Westaflex was founded in Melbourne by Michael’s parents, Ed and Elizabeth Sterling, in 1974. In the 1980s, the business expanded to other cities across Australia. When Ed passed away in 1992, Michael and his brother Paul joined their mother to help run the business.
“My mother still runs the business as owner and Managing Director but she is not as involved as she used to be. Paul and I run the business day-to-day,” says Michael.
In 2010, the business moved to the most modern plastics manufacturing facility in Australia, in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg West. The building has a state-of-the-art warehousing system with cable guided forklifts which has increased pallet storage to 1300 pallets.
From here, Westaflex manufactures and sells a range of products relating to ducting, fittings, ventilation, refrigeration and thermostats. It has also developed the Westaflex CONNECT system which allows users to control their air conditioning, lights, power, irrigation system, ducted heating and garage doors via the touch of a smartphone or tablet.
Australia is still living with the volatility of COVID outbreaks but many parts of Europe and North America are more severely impacted, experiencing extremely high case numbers and deaths.
So it is little surprise that the McMonty Medihood is being seen as an innovative and effective way to promote the safety of health care workers in some systems that are already stretched beyond capacity.
“We have been quoting internationally and there is definitely a lot of interest, so we anticipate this will be a big focus of ours again throughout 2021.”