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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2023
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MGA: From Toys to Protective Gear

The latest product to come out of the Little Tikes toy factory in Hudson, Ohio isn’t a toy at all. It’s a medical ventilator mask for COVID-19 patients. Owned by Chatsworth toy maker MGA Entertainment Inc., the Midwestern manufacturing facility is churning out around 75 ventilator masks a week – and that’s in addition to all the usual Little Tikes playthings, trinkets and gizmos. According to Chief Executive Isaac Larian, MGA is trying to fill a dearth of respiratory aid devices as the global health care industry fights to keep advanced cases of the virus at bay. The masks are part of Operation Pac-Man, MGA’s global charity campaign to donate money and personal protection equipment to hospitals and health care workers. “We saw a lot of news about shortages of ventilators in the market,” Larian said. “I went to our engineers and said, ‘People are dying, we’ve got to do something.’ We needed to come up with something we can make cheap, fast and can get into hospitals urgently.” The company’s design and engineering team began modeling a prototype using 3D printing software while simultaneously retooling a section of the facility’s machinery to make mask components rather than toys. Within two weeks, the team completed a headgear prototype featuring a plastic face shield, tubing to connect to an oxygen source and filters that decontaminate the air inhaled and exhaled by the wearer. It is designed to help patients with advanced COVID-19 breathe easier, hopefully preventing them from needing a more invasive ventilator. The Little Tikes logo is stamped on top of the gear near the breathing tube. The team also designed a similar mask to protect medical personnel and staff from breathing in any infected particulates while interacting with patients. That design required only a filter for inhalants – the wearer exhales directly through a mouthpiece. Larian called the plant conversion process a “herculean effort.” He brought the prototypes to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood for feedback. Doctors suggested slight adjustments, like further securing the tubing so it couldn’t slip out. Once they were happy with the model, MGA started scaling up production. Larian has branded the masks the “Lev Love System,” after his grandson Lev. He said the company has made about 200 ready-to-use masks, but can’t distribute them widely until the Food and Drug Administration approves the design. As a result, MGA has only given masks to the Reagan Medical Center at UCLA and one hospital in New York. Larian said he’s working with Valley Congressman Brad Sherman to get expedited approval. Once cleared, he plans to make 5,000 masks a week. He said MGA would give them away for free to hospitals as long as it can afford. “Business is going to take a toll, but it’s OK,” Larian said. Even if the company needs to start selling them, he said, they’re fairly inexpensive by medical standards. Larian said a single ventilator machine costs between $25,000 and $35,000. He said MGA’s masks would cost $250 a piece. “MGA has incredible designers and engineers. We are known to make new, original ideas that people think aren’t possible. That’s exactly what we did,” he said.

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