Local Southern Maryland Businesses and Organizations Design Oven to Kill COVID and Assist Front Line Health Care Workers

December 1, 2020

A heat sanitization box designed and developed by entrepreneurs at TechPort, UAS Business Incubator and Community Innovation Hub of Southern Maryland, to assist frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by making personal protective equipment (PPE) reusable was instrumental in yesterday’s announcement on Dry Heat by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Officially titled the Semi-Automated Heat Bioburden Reduction Module, the 16-feet long, 8-feet wide, and 8-feet high “Hot Box” unit has undergone FDA testing while in use at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center during the past eight months.

“We are thrilled to reach this stage where all our hard work can now become accessible to health care providers throughout our nation,” said Tommy Luginbill, director of TechPort. “What an incredible experience it has been to pull our Southern Maryland community together to produce an essential tool in this battle against the novel coronavirus.”

As much of the nation began shutting down business to combat the novel coronavirus last March, Luginbill and Matt Hayes, founder and owner of Unmanned Propulsion Development, recognized that as TechPort entrepreneurs they were in an ideal position to help. Initially, they created masks, shields and gowns, but quickly realized materials would run out.

“The idea of constantly using PPE once and throwing it away was not sustainable,” said Hayes, who paused his work on a hybrid gas and electric generator powered propulsion system, to lead development of the heat sanitization box and establish a nonprofit, Southern Maryland Loves You, to support the project. “We can keep producing things people can use once, or we could come up with a way to reuse those things.”

Hayes studied the characteristics of the virus, how to filter it and chemicals that would destroy it, part of a document he created on COVID-19 for engineers. It became clear that simple, universal heat was the way to go.

Eight companies were approached to help and two were a perfect fit: Burch Oil and Triton Defense, where the box was built. Capable of disinfecting 24,000 N95 masks per day, or other PPE equipment, the “hot box” can provide healthcare personnel the ability to reuse their gear at least 20 times, saving money and materials. It takes about one hour to cycle, not including the time to load and unload the PPE, Hayes says.

“We couldn’t be prouder of this manufacturing triumph in Southern Maryland,” said Chris Kaselemis, economic development director for St. Mary’s County. “The way TechPort entrepreneurs collaborated with Burch Oil and Triton Defense in a moment of great need is a model for how business relationships can be effective and flourish in the future.”

Local Maryland artists and musicians were instrumental in spreading awareness of the ‘Hot Box’ technology through multiple media platforms.

“Being able to sanitize and safely reuse our PPE has been a godsend during this intense time period when there is a strain on all health care facilities,” said Dominic Fragman. “We know firsthand what an important and practical innovation this is for the ongoing pandemic.”

In issuing the new policy on heat, the FDA notes that this guidance provides a policy for bioburden1 reduction systems that use dry heat to help support the single-user reuse2 of certain particulate filtering facepiece respirators3 (FFRs). This policy applies to FFRs that do not have exhalation valves.

Why this design? Simply put, mass decontamination. The Heat Sanitation Module is capable of decontaminating 24,000 masks daily. Currently PPE materials are extremely limited and providing a safe option for decontamination will allow reuse of existing materials. Masks are sanitized quickly and can be reused by the original wearer.

Availability is currently awaiting FDA approval.

About TechPort – TechPort, UAS Business Incubator and Community Innovation Hub of Southern Maryland, is a business incubator, think tank and the center of the Southern Maryland innovation zone. Located at St. Mary’s County Airport, TechPort began operations in April 2018 and is supported by the U.S. Navy, St. Mary’s County and the University of Maryland. Its mission is to grow the area’s economic base by accelerating innovation and assisting entrepreneurs to create and build new tech based companies. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and other autonomous systems are the primary focus of the incubator.

About SoMD Loves You – Southern Maryland Loves You is a non-profit organization, and is made up of about 100 people consisting of mostly engineers and a couple of medical professionals. The group was founded by Matt Hayes, an engineer, who recognized the need for alternative ways to produce and stretch high demand medical equipment. SoMd Loves You has been working hard to develop a “Heat Box” which sanitizes PPE equipment so that it can be reused over and over again. The Heat Box would greatly reduce medical plastic waste and provide short turnaround time in sanitizing a previously used medical mask.

  • The Crisis

Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are on the front lines battling the Coronavirus crisis. Due to an unprecedented demand, they are doing so without the PPE and other medical equipment they need which puts their own lives in jeopardy.

  • Our Mission

Our mission is to support those on the front lines combating Covid-19 by providing funding and products to hospitals, EMS, and those developing other innovative solutions.

  • Our Goal

No medical professional should have to go to work fearing for their life and for the lives of their family. Our goal is to eradicate this fear and help the medical professionals get the equipment they need to do their jobs safely.