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Case StudyDesigning a Medical-Grade Consumer Air Purifier With No Time for Trial and Error

Summary

When a company that traditionally sold white-labeled air purifiers saw the opportunity to manufacture its own higher-performance product in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they partnered with R.P. Fedder to work alongside them as an extension of their design team. They relied on R.P. Fedder’s decades of experience designing filters for surgical suites and other medical spaces to help ensure the new device would be easy to manufacture and perform as planned to protect against viruses.

Our Consultative Approach

“Often, when designing air filters, people tend to oversimplify by thinking that the filters are things that stop particulate – period. They think about the filter media, but don’t take into account the other things that ultimately impact the efficacy of the device, such as whether the frame and the filter will form a tight seal so air and particulate don’t go right past the filter without getting caught,” says Chris Fox, president of R.P. Fedder. “High reliability/high performance has an absolute science to it. Our customer knew they had to get it right from the start so they came to us to do so and shorten their learning curve substantially to get into production.”

The company had already designed an elegant air purifier device sold in big box stores. Its frame was complex, with a unique shape. They initially wanted to mimic this design in the higher performing purifier. “Overall, that design was incredibly expensive to make and just wouldn’t work because the unique shape would prevent us from being able to achieve a robust seal that wouldn’t wear over time. It was also susceptible to failure due to user installation error,” says Fox.

Instead, R.P. Fedder recommended they design a high-performance filter that would be inexpensive to produce (which was essential to the customer’s business model) and then design the housing around that. “We walked them through the economics of the life cycle of the product and it made the most sense to do it this way,” adds Fox. “We fundamentally changed their thinking around this whole aspect of launching the product.”

Shortening the Design Cycle Through Collaboration

As they worked alongside the company’s design engineers, R.P. Fedder’s goals were to get a good compression seal. Among the things considered were the pros and cons of round versus square filters for the application. Fedder also wanted to design the frame so making filters for it is simple, and the company could produce a high volume without a lot of investment or labor. It would also be part of a family of products so the design needed to lend itself to scalability.

“They had a lot of questions at first, particularly about which material to use for the frame. We helped them get through the learning curve quickly, helped them choose a rigid frame material, not to mention make a lot of other choices,” Fox explains. “They didn’t have time to learn through trial and error. Our input drastically shortened the design cycle, as many of their designs would prove to be completely unworkable if tested.”

The new air purifier, and the family of products of which it will be a part, represent a substantial investment by R.P. Fedder’s customer, who was committed to designing a 100 percent, U.S.-made, medical-grade consumer air purifier. Relying on Fedder’s expertise, the company was able to avoid trial-and-error mistakes and the new air purifier is scheduled for production in Summer 2021.