Companies partnering to produce more ventilators
April 1, 2020
TORONTO – This week, Medtronic announced that it is sharing the design specs and software codes for one of its ventilators, the Puritan Bennett 560 (PB 560). The move was made so that others can manufacture devices to increase the global supply of ventilators and combat fatalities from COVID-19.
In just two days, over 500 organizations in Canada downloaded the Open IP for the BP560, Medtronic said.
Medtronic is one of the world’s biggest producers of ventilators and has dramatically stepped up production. But its managers realize that their redoubled efforts – along with those of its industry peers – may not result in enough machines to meet demand.
For that reason, Medtronic and other ventilator makers are reaching out to a host of industries, entrepreneurs and academics to help boost production. “Our efforts are collaborative,” said Neil Fraser (pictured), president of Medtronic Canada. “We’re working in a spirit of humanitarianism.”
In one instance, automaker Tesla announced that it would partner with Medtronic to produce more ventilators. A Tesla factory that was making solar panels in Buffalo, N.Y., may soon be turning out ventilators in collaboration with Medtronic.
In Canada, a 2009 survey led by Sunnybrook Health Sciences intensivist Dr. Robert Fowler concluded there were approximately 5,000 ventilators spread across 286 hospitals in Canada.
When patients are suffering from severe cases of COVID-19, they often need ventilation. A recent estimate by Globe and Mail writer André Picard suggested that 2 percent of COVID-19 patients need to be put on a ventilator. Other sources have said as many as 5 percent will need ventilation.
With about 7,500 cases of COVID-19 in this country as of Tuesday morning, that works out to an estimated 150 to 375 COVID-19 patients currently on ventilators across Canada. But as we know, the numbers of cases are quickly growing – Canada saw a jump of 1,128 cases in a single day on Monday, and the numbers are spiking.
If the volume of cases explodes, as in Italy or New York State, the supply of ventilators could be easily outstripped by demand.
Moreover, COVID-19 patients tend to stay on the ventilators for weeks rather than the mere days that are normal for surgical step-down patients and others.
“The way COVID-19 manifests itself in most critically ill patients is complex,” said Patrick Nellis, marketing manager, respiratory interventions, at Medtronic. “They may need to be on a ventilator for a long time.”
Already, there is a real shortage of ventilators in the United States and abroad, and companies like Medtronic have been rallying to produce more. Here are some recent efforts announced in Canada and internationally:
- GM/Ventronic. GM said it is working “day and night” to convert an auto parts plant in Kokomo, Indiana to the production of Ventec VOCSN critical care ventilators. Shipments are expected to start later in April.
- Ford Motor Co. plans to build simple medical ventilators at a components plant in Michigan and says it hopes to produce 50,000 of the devices over the next three months. Production will start in late April at Ford’s Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti. Output will ramp up over time, with the bulk of the 50,000 devices being built in June. Ford, working in collaboration with GE Healthcare, will be using an existing design from a small medical technology company called Airon. Ford is also, separately, working with GE Health to ramp up production of a more complex, fully featured ventilator.
- Dyson, the vacuum-cleaner maker, has received an order from the UK government for 10,000 ventilators to support efforts by the country’s National Health Service to treat coronavirus patients. James Dyson, the company’s billionaire founder, confirmed the order in a letter to employees shared with CNN on Wednesday. Dyson said the company had designed and built an entirely new ventilator, called the “CoVent,” since he received a call two weeks ago from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
- The Montreal General Hospital Foundation, in collaboration with the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), launched a global innovation challenge, backed by a prize of $200,000. They are calling for teams to design a simple, low-cost, easy-to-manufacture and easy-to-maintain ventilator which could be deployed anywhere needed to save lives. Leading researchers and medical staff at the Montreal General Hospital have assembled a committee of expert advisors (ICU physicians, engineers, etc.) who have defined specifications for this ventilator challenge and who will be judging submissions. The top three designs will be available for free download to anyone who needs them, saving lives immediately.
- In one response to this challenge, engineers at the Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Human Mobility Research centre and Ingenuity Labs have joined forces with Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) to design a low-cost, and easy-to-manufacture ventilator that can be created and deployed anywhere around the world. The Queen’s/KHSC team of 18 includes faculty members and students, as well as health professionals. The team is working on a design that uses Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) technology in its design. These machines, which help healthy people with sleep apnea breathe more easily, have the potential to be modified to support or replace breathing for a coronavirus patient.
Medtronic’s Nellis pointed out that the challenges of producing ventilators should not be underestimated, as the devices are sophisticated mixes of mechanical parts, electronic sensors and software. “Our most complicated ventilator has over 1,500 parts,” he commented.
As well, new devices must go through testing and quality control.
Still, he said the task is not impossible, and in a crisis like this one, established companies, start-ups and academics should band together to increase production.