Manufacturers Respond to the Global Shortage of Ventilators

A look at some projects underway to address the current ventilator crisis.

Manufacturers around the world are responding to the ventilator shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford Motor Company announced a project with General Electric Healthcare to produce 50,000 units in 100 days, with the capacity to further build 30,000 units a month. The companies will build the Model A-E ventilator, a GE Healthcare design that can operate using air pressure without relying on electricity. Quick setup and small footprints were leading factors in the design of these ventilators to allow for rapid deployment in emergency room settings. April 20 is the targeted date for production to begin at Ford’s Rawsonville, Mich. plant.

Ventilator Challenge UK is a group of manufacturing companies dedicated to supplying large numbers of ventilators to hospitals. Among the companies participating are several Formula 1 teams, which are uniting under the banner of Project Pitlane. The group says that F1’s core skills of “rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly” will aid them in the creation of ventilators. Dick Elsy from the Ventillator Challenge consortium announced on April 2 that while Penlon and Smiths could normally produce 50-60 ventilators per week, the group projects that it will soon be producing 1,500 machines per week.

British inventor James Dyson also announced a ventilator project that will produce 10,000 of his CoVent units for the UK government. CoVent is a battery-powered ventilator that is designed to connect to the side of a patient’s bed. Dyson said that his goal was to design a machine that could be built “quickly, efficiently and at volume,” as well as be tailored to the needs of COVID-19 patients. 

As more manufacturers answer the call to produce ventilators, questions are increasingly being asked about regulations and safety. The Food and Drug Administration has issued Emergency Use Authorizations that allow for the use of alternate ventilators, ventilator tube connectors, and ventilating accessories. The American Society of Anesthesiologists cautioned that using modified “non-invasive ventilation (e.g., CPAP or BiPAP) may increase the risk of infectious transmission.” Moving forward, it’s clear that more manufacturers will be building ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients using their existing infrastructure, design skills, and manufacturing expertise.