Engineering student contributes to national ventilator project

Darian Langeler – following physical distancing protocols – works on the ventilator project at StarFish Medical. (Photos: Vladimir Valastiak)

When Darian Langeler started his co-op at StarFish Medical in January, he could never have imagined he’d end up working on a crucial, nation-wide project that could benefit thousands of Canadians.

In March, the federal government announced that StarFish, along with other Canadian companies, had been contracted to quickly design, develop and produce 30,000 reliable, cost-effective ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. StarFish was selected to manage the design partners, while most of the manufacturing was to be carried out by companies in Ontario and Manitoba.

“It was totally unexpected – overnight the ventilator project picked up and everyone began devoting a lot of time to it,” said Langeler, a third-year Electrical Engineering student. “They needed extra hands, so I ended up taking on a larger role.”

One of Langeler’s main tasks was to create small printed circuit boards (PCBs) that were used to bridge the gap between larger boards being developed by other staff.

“They gave me jobs that needed to get done and were very relevant to the project, but ones that I was able to do,” said Langeler. “It has been incredible to be able to help out with some aspect of the pandemic, to have a real impact in this way.”

Because of the nature of its business and the federal project, StarFish has kept extra busy during the pandemic. John Walmsley, EVP of Strategic Relationships, is Program Manager for the company’s ventilator project.

“We are so pleased that we can offer opportunities for co-ops, like Darian, to have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to our work,” Walmsley said. “Highly capable co-ops given opportunity are the future of our company and industry.”

While Langeler has worked from home since late March, he occasionally goes into the company’s offices on Boleskine Road, carefully following physical distancing protocols.

“I definitely feel lucky that I managed to have this co-op and not have it cancelled half-way through,” Langeler said. “This is a very uncertain time and I’ve been fortunate to be able to work and help out in as full a capacity as I have.”

Langeler says he was motivated to apply to StarFish last fall for two reasons: the first was his interest in using engineering skills in the medical field; the second was having the chance to work at a contract-based company, which is always designing new products.

“The best part of working here has been the experience of getting to see all the different stages of a medical device’s design and how the project matures through that process,” he said. The most challenging part of the job was getting up to speed on the extensive and rigorous regulations that govern the design and development of medical devices.

“There’s a steep learning curve and many of my early days at StarFish were spent poring over regulations on how to do things to theirstandard,” he recalls.

Focusing on PCB hardware design is something that Langeler has enjoyed both at StarFish and during his first co-op term at UVic AERO, a team of almost 50 engineering students who design, build and test Unmanned Aerial Systems – informally known as drones. There, he focused on the development of the circuit boards of various onboard systems and payloads. He enjoyed the work so much that he ran and was elected for the position of AERO’s Electrical Lead, a position he has held almost a year.

As his term at StarFish comes to an end, Langeler is planning to spend time with his family in Courtenay, where he’ll attend his sister’s very scaled-down wedding. Once back in Victoria, he’ll work with other AERO members to continue improving their six-rotor “hexacopter” drone.

“It sucks that the competition AERO usually attends was cancelled, but we’re all excited to keep on going with our work and to see what we can do at the next competition,” he said.

For his third co-op, Langeler would like to try something completely different – maybe something involving large-scale power systems. Still, working at StarFish Medical has helped shape his view of how his future might unfold.

“Working at a company in the medical field that designs electronics gives you the knowledge that the things you’re designing and sending out will directly benefit many people,” he said. “Working at StarFish has really shown me that this is something I’d seriously consider as a career.”