Alumnus Designs Safety Test for Newly Authorized Ventilator

Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota

Spencer Livdahl ’14, an electrical test engineer with Boston Scientific, was involved with testing a new breathing assistance device to be used on COVID-19 patients.

A team of design and process engineers, as well as high-level management at Boston Scientific Corporation (BSC) and the University of Minnesota, developed a reliable, cost-efficient, quick-to-build ventilator recently approved for production by the FDA. Livdahl normally gets involved on the back end once a design is at least partially finished, but this project was slightly different because of the urgent need.

Livdahl said the team took a project that normally would take months, if not years, and did it in 30 days without cutting corners. The result is the Coventor, a machine that uses a basic motor to squeeze a plastic air pump usually operated by hand.

“Most of us immediately dropped what we were working on for the last three weeks and went 100% on the Coventor project,” Livdahl said. “Many of the team members have been working tirelessly, most hours of the day.”

“There was no lack of motivation or passion to get the job done,” he added. “Because lives are so immediately on the line. The team has been supportive, uplifting and light-hearted, so the urgency, thankfully, has taken a backseat for me. I’m happy (albeit tired) to have contributed to this project.”

“While the university does incredible education, research, and development, it isn’t a manufacturing plant,” Livdahl said. “BSC does both.”

Livdahl has worked for BSC since 2015 when he was an intern and electrical engineering student at the U of M. Now a full-time electrical test engineer, he does a variety of tasks in the field.

“Test engineering is a wonderful field because of its variety and impact,” he said. “I can be writing software for testing components inside of a pacemaker or defibrillator one day, and creating a manual electrical safety test for an emergency pandemic ventilator the next!”

Livdahl’s department ensures that all of BSC’s products are thoroughly tested and have the patient in mind at all times. The bulk of his work involves developing and supporting manufacturing test systems to ensure products perform as expected and required.

Because he was an engineering student and had a few years of school left after graduation from Concordia, he didn’t feel the academic closure many students get until after he graduated from the U of M.

“I have a close, family-like bond with people from my years as an undergrad, and watching them succeed inspires me to work harder and better the world,” Livdahl said. “My life is immeasurably better because of relationships sustained and time spent at Concordia.”

Livdahl said employees have been working remotely as much as possible during the pandemic and there are numerous measures being taken to ensure their safety.

“With BSC being a medical device company, we take the risk to patients and employees incredibly seriously,” Livdahl said. 

The Coventor, which can be built for $1,000, is expected to be on the assembly line soon with BSC having the ability to build thousands of the devices. The design will also be released online so other companies can build it.

Photo: Courtesy of the University of Minnesota