Manufacturer Partnerships are Answering the Call on the Ventilator Shortage
Sharna Jahangir posted on May 22, 2020 |
Manufacturers secure significant contracts to support solutions to the ventilator shortage.

It seems there are fewer media reports about the crisis of ventilator shortages, which raises the question, “Is it still a crisis?”

In the U.S. there are currently 1.6 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and we are nearing close to a 100,000 deaths in the country. With the long weekend and the beginning of summer, people are getting impatient to be outside, and starting to invite large crowds and family—which is resulting in another spike of cases.

The good news is that the manufacturing industry is on the ball during this time, with the mission to provide hospitals and healthcare facilities with ventilators. Ventilators alone will not solve the COVID-19 crisis; however, they will help by taking care of critically ill patients. It remains highly advisable to continue with safe physical distancing practices.

A number of U.S. manufacturers are jumping to answer the call for ventilator production. Some interesting partnerships are emerging from this. Three partnerships that exemplify the underlying movement to secure these significant contracts to support solutions to the ventilator shortage include Celestica and StarFish Medical, Belkin and the University of Illnois, and Spirit AeroSystems and Vyaire Medical.

Celestica and Starfish Medical

The hardware assembler and manufacturer Celestica, based in Toronto, Canada, has incorporated advanced design and process control to manufacturing in order to fabricate critical ventilators to address the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Celestica  announced it won a program to build 7,500 ventilators for StarFish Medical Inc., a Canadian medical device company, at Celestica’s factory operation in Newmarket, Ontario. StarFish 

Celestica was set to begin manufacturing the ventilators in May, and intends to deliver the finished products on behalf of StarFish Medical to Canada's federal health maintenance organization, Health Canada, for distribution early in the fourth quarter of 2020.

“We are proud to partner with StarFish Medical in supplying the ventilators that healthcare professionals must have to treat COVID-19 patients who are in critical condition,” said Kevin Walsh, vice president of Celestica. “It’s a Canada-for-Canada alliance that will help to ensure our hospitals and healthcare workers have the equipment they need to save lives.”

“We’re working on a very short timetable, and Celestica’s expertise and capabilities across the entire product development cycle will ensure we can meet the deadline and deliver products of the highest quality,” adds John Walmsley, EVP Strategic Relationships at StarFish Medical Inc.

StarFish leads the Canadian Emergency Ventilators project, part of the Canadian Government’s plan to mobilize industry to fight COVID-19. That plan includes Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s (ISED) Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) initiative to build capacity through superclusters. The initiative will quickly bring to market more than 30,000 ventilators in Canada to meet the demand for lifesaving medical equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Belkin and the University of Illinois

Product rendering of ventilator parts. (Image courtesy of Belkin.)

Product rendering of ventilator parts. (Image courtesy of Belkin.)

Another joint venture is based in Los Angeles. Belkin, the maker of FitBit, is in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Grainger College of Engineering for the design of the FlexVent Gas-Operated Ventilator. Belkin will produce the FlexVent, pending the review and approval of its Emergency Use Authorization application by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This emergency ventilator is based on the Illinois RapidVent concept, which was published by the University of Illinois in March 2020. Belkin obtained a license to the Illinois RapidVent design from the University of Illinois. Team members from University of Illinois and Carle Health, a health care system based in Illinois, offered invaluable feedback on the product design, manufacturability, training for physicians and potential clinical scenarios where the FlexVent may be needed to help COVID-19 patients when other FDA-cleared or approved conventional/standard full-featured ventilators are unavailable.

“This is one of the most urgent humanitarian crises we have experienced in our lifetimes, and the number one responsibility for each of us in this moment is the care and compassion for others in need,” said Chet Pipkin, CEO and founder of Belkin. “Our merger with Foxconn Interconnect Technology (FIT) in 2018 gave us access to the most powerful and capable manufacturing assets in the world and its long-term strategy to create new end markets in automotive, industrial and medical systems industries. We had to take action now where we could. With a global pandemic underway, we quickly realigned our assets to serve the healthcare community, and we were able to adapt to identify one of the most pressing needs facing the healthcare community: ventilators.”

William King, a professor of mechanical science and engineering in the Grainger College of Engineering, speaks of the dedication involved, saying “The University of Illinois and its partners developed an emergency ventilator concept as we saw the need for these devices grow exponentially. We were driven by the desire to help the world and make a meaningful impact on the COVID crisis, and we’re proud to work with Belkin to have that impact.”

Spirit AeroSystems and Vyaire Medical

Spirit AeroSystems employees look over the first completed fuselage of the 737 MAX on Aug. 13, 2015. (Image courtesy of AeroSystems.)

Spirit AeroSystems employees look over the first completed fuselage of the 737 MAX on Aug. 13, 2015. (Image courtesy of AeroSystems.)

The third partnership example for this cause is Spirit AeroSystems partnership with Vyaire Medical, a medical supplier based in Chicago, Illinois. The partnership plans to supply ventilators that can be used to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients. Spirit AeroSystems is a commercial aviation manufacturer in Wichita, Kansas, and with the help of Vyaire Medical, will produce tens of thousands of LTV2 2200 ventilators.

Vyaire was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to produce 22,000 ventilators for the Strategic National Stockpile, and is also filling requests for private and state hospitals. 

“This collaboration is an opportunity for Spirit to help at a time when our nation needs it most. We are honored to bring our industrial capabilities and skilled workforce to help Vyaire scale up quickly to produce much-needed ventilators during this pandemic,” said Tom Gentile, president and CEO of Spirit AeroSystems.

Yielding a Win-Win Situation 

None of the three manufacturers are experts in medical device manufacturing, but their expertise in markets that use similar or adaptable design, engineering and mass production technologies allow them to quickly ramp to production of critical machines. Combined with the production capabilities of major manufacturers like General Motors and Ford, it is likely that any second wave of COVID-19 will be met with a reliable supply of lifesaving ventilators.

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