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Lokvani Talks To Alkesh Shah

Ranjani Saigal

Alkesh Shah lives in Acton, MA with his family for over 30 years. An engineer by training, he has worked and consulted for companies that span financial services, pharmaceutical and healthcare services industries. He has held leadership roles across a number of large and small size companies, including his latest startup venture WatchRx.io. Alkesh has been associated with numerous (Indian) community organizations across the New England area, as well as in his hometown. 

His professional interests are technology innovations and transformative solutions, some of which include IoT, Intelligent Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics. His personal passions include working with students in area of STEM.

What motivated you to join IITAGNE as a core team member?

I am a graduate of IIT Bombay have been active in various local Indian community organizations that cater to social and cultural causes important to the Indian community. Being a technical professional, he felt that he can do more leveraging his technical acumen. IIT AGNE with its goals and mission to advance STEM centric activities, provided a platform where I can do more.  

Could you please tell us a little about the 3D printing of mask initiative that you are working on?

IIT AGNE heard of an initiative with Maynard based small company Excelsior Comics and Games which got into high gear when COVID-19 pandemic hit all of us. There was and still is a shortage and a need for respiratory personal protection equipment (PPE) by our healthcare works who were on the frontline. We are working with numerous health care and emergency personnel to provide respiratory PPE through the use of 3D design and additive manufacturing.

Why is this such an important need?

Providing protection for those on the front lines is essential to ensuring they are able to continue to do their jobs and save lives, while minimizing the risk they take themselves. Every medical professional we lose creates a worsening trend of overworking, exhaustion, and diminishing of capability. Keeping our professionals safe is the best way we can support our front line.

Do 3D printed masks work well enough? Is there an approval process for the masks? How did you go about getting it validated within the healthcare community?

3D Printer masks, when worn correctly (as with all protective equipment) uses filtering materials that are on par with current protective equipment standards. Much like anything used in a hospital, everything is tested, and retested, documented and approved. We have been working with hospital staff to have them do on site testing with their infectious diseases departments to approve any designs we use or make to ensure they are functional and protective. 
What are some of the challenges you encountered and how you resolved with respect to printing the masks?

We have gone through 3 versions of the masks, with different designs and different challenges along the way. From material use per mask, to overall print time, functionality, usability, the list goes on. However, we have been able to work with a large group of people who have been able to assist all along the process.

Do you believe there are opportunities in the field of 3D to grow in the post COVID world?

3D printing was on the rise before all of this, and I think these events have really opened peoples’ eyes to how quickly these machines can be mobilized to begin production of parts in need. I don't know if they are ever going to be able to compete long-term with injection molding or other high-volume production methods, but they have definitely already found a comfortable place in rapid prototyping settings and production of certain products with minimal skills and training. The 3D printers, currently in use, will be given to local schools and colleges, once COVID-19 is behind us so that students continue doing research and advances in 3D technology. 

Is IITAGNE working on any other initiative with regards to the current crisis?

IIT AGNE is working with IMANE to setup a portal for one place stop to get information for local communities to get answers when there is a crisis or a personal family emergency. The goal of this portal is to connect people with resources that can help and answer questions. IIT AGNE is also working on a conference, that will bring people across all walks of life – technology professionals, doctors, payer and provider professionals – focusing on innovations in healthcare technology, along with public policy makers; that can help address real problems and challenges that the medical community is facing.

How can the community help?

Please visit iitagne.org to learn more about this initiative and let us all rise to the challenge and beat the COVID-19 pandemic and make a difference.

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