[Skip to Content]
An aerial view of Marquardt in Cazenovia.

Marquardt Switches in Cazenovia donates supplies, skilled toolmakers to make parts for mobile respirators for Upstate staff treating COVID-19 patients

As Upstate University Hospital prepared for an influx of COVID-19 patients, staff began rounding up critical personal protective equipment for medical staff. Among that equipment was a collection of 115 personal, mobile respirators called PAPRs (pronounced pappers).

A PAPR is powered with a wearable battery and features a tight-fitting respirator connected to a hood or helmet. The respirator filters out contaminants and blows clean air to the person’s face. Despite having 115 of the devices, they weren’t used very frequently, said Joe Boardman, a senior systems analyst who manages many Upstate systems related to its operating rooms. So when Upstate staff retrieved its PAPRs from storage and began testing them for use with COVID-19 patients, there was a problem, Boardman said.

“The tubes on the PAPRs weren’t meant for heavy use,” he said. “So when they were flexed at all they were breaking and then all those little cracks were making it so they weren’t passing the flow test.”

Boardman realized the faulty tubes on the PAPRs were not going to be safe for Upstate staff working on the front lines of COVID-19. He needed a solution. And fast.

Prior to working at Upstate, Boardman worked in manufacturing and had experience as a tool maker. He texted a former colleague – adjunct professor and technical engineer Walt Zarnoch – at 10:30 p.m. to explain the problem and ask for help. Twelve hours later, Zarnoch, who works at Hamilton College and SUNY Polytechnic Institute, had a prototype for his friend. Boardman used equipment at his house to produce the prototype and began reaching out to additional Upstate contacts for how to proceed. Upstate called CenterState CEO, which connected Boardman to Marquardt Switches, a manufacturing company in Cazenovia, Madison County.

What happened next was an 80-hour whirlwind week of Boardman working remotely with Marquardt journeyman toolmaker Ryan Voorhees to produce the right parts for Upstate’s PAPRs. They needed to find a flexible but strong tubing material that could be tightly fastened to both ends of the PAPR. In addition, all of the parts needed to be made of materials that could be safely disassembled, sanitized and stand up to the medical sanitization process. (Boardman’s wife, Kathryn Boardman manages Upstate’s Central Equipment Services and helped the team understand the sanitization process, which was critical in the development, he said.)

For the last three weeks, Voorhees and a small team of toolmakers produced, assembled and packaged approved parts for Upstate PAPRs as fast as they could. Upstate picked up the equipment – threaded nozzles, clamps and a 34-inch corrugated plastic tube – in small batches from Marquardt each morning. Once at Upstate, the equipment was unpacked, sanitized and put into service on PAPR machines being used by medical staff treating COVID-19 patients. To date, 115 sets of PAPR tubes and fasteners have been delivered to Upstate with about a dozen more in the works for back-up parts, Boardman said.

Marquardt has donated the parts and labor – a $4,000 value according to the company – free of charge.

“In response to the worldwide shortage for medical equipment, we discovered that we can use our machining capabilities to quickly provide components for medical machinery,” said Marquardt General Manager Kirk Wardell. “We are looking at these opportunities and asking, ‘what else can we do?’ We are fortunate to operate in a close-knit community where everyone is stepping up to help, and it’s incredibly inspiring. We are all in this together, and Marquardt is eager to contribute.”

Marquardt is known for manufacturing parts for the automotive industry but that sector has slowed because of the pandemic, Voorhees said. One of their key partners in making the equipment for Upstate was JGB Enterprises, Inc., in Liverpool, which provided the correct hose material, Voorhees and Boardman said.

The process of producing this new equipment has involved more than a dozen people at three SUNY Campuses (Upstate, Polytechnic and an engineer at Binghamton has designed a part to fit an older PAPR model that Upstate is also looking to deploy); three local companies (Marquardt, JGB and Yorkville Battery outside Utica is rebuilding rechargeable batteries for the older PAPRs) as well as CenterState CEO and many Upstate staffers. Every time Boardman asks someone for help the answer is always the same -- yes, he said.

“It’s incredible – the camaraderie of everybody coming together,” Boardman said. “There hasn’t been a question at all about whether or not we can do it. It’s ‘what do we need to do?’”

“We don’t want to slow this down from helping people on the front lines. And if this is going to help these people, we’re going to get it done.”

Caption: Marquardt Switches in Cazenovia, Madison County.