Ford and General Motors are transforming their car factories into emergency ventilator manufacturing plants (Photos from Ford, GM)

 

Automakers Ford and General Motors are shifting their focus from manufacturing cars to ventilators. The two announced in March they would build the medical devices after shutting down car production. Ford teamed up with GE Healthcare in hopes of producing 50,000 ventilators within 100 days and up to 30,000 a month as needed. The ventilator is a licensed design from Airon Corp.

 

Production is expected to begin April 20 with Ford sending a team of engineers to help production at Airon's Florida plant along with preparing its own Rawsonville Components Plant in Michigan for large scale manufacturing. They expect to produce 1,500 ventilators by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May, and 50,000 by July.

 

Meanwhile, GM is getting members of its unitized workforce to build devices for ventilator company Ventec Life Systems at their factory in Kokomo, Indiana. The company hopes to eventually make 10,000 ventilators a month, but they didn't specify how long it would take to reach that number. They will also make surgical masks at its Warren, Michigan factory. Their goal is to make 50,000 masks each day within two weeks, with a possible total output of 100,000 per day.

 

"We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic," said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. "This partnership has rallied the GM enterprise and our global supply base to support Ventec, and the teams are working together with incredible passion and commitment. I am proud of this partnership as we work together to address urgent and life-saving needs."

 

MIT scientists create affordable ventilator machine. This design turns an Ambu resuscitation bag into an automated device (Photo from MIT)

 

Medical professionals around the world have answered the call to fight back against the coronavirus. As if the situation wasn't stressful enough, many hospitals are facing a shortage of ventilators, which are needed to help pump oxygen into coronavirus' patients' lungs. Various companies like Dyson, Ford, and General Motors, are currently working on building ICU ventilators, but they need time to get the devices finished. In an effort to provide some aid, a team of scientists at MIT has created an affordable and easily made ventilator.

 

The team, known as E-Vent, regrouped to resume work on a 10-year-old ventilator project. The main part of their design uses Ambu resuscitation bags, which most hospitals already have in stock. These are used by emergency technicians to keep the patient breathing until they are hooked up to a ventilator.

 

The team connected the bags to a device that automatically pumps the bag with air in the same manner as if a human were doing it. Typically, a person would be required to stay by the patient all day to keep them breathing until they can get to an ICU ventilator. This new device would alleviate some of that pressure.

 

The new ventilator costs between $400 and $500. So far, there's no word on when the prototype information will be shared, but the team assures they plan on sharing the design on their website so manufacturers and companies can build the device for hospitals around the world. Eventually, they want to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

 

Tesla starts building ventilator out of re-purposed car parts. Tesla's ventilators are made from Model 3 and Model S parts. (Photo from Tesla)

 

Elon Musk wants to do his part to fight back against the coronavirus. Last month, he announced on Twitter that Tesla would be willing to make ventilators if there's a shortage. This quickly caught the attention of the media, first responders and even the mayor of New York Bill de Blasio.

 

When asked how many ventilators Tesla could make, Musk responded "Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?"

 

Recently, Tesla shared a sneak peek at how the medical devices are made with re-purposed car parts, including parts from the Model 3's infotainment screen and computer as well as parts from the Model S's suspension system. They also showed off two different versions of the ventilators: a prototype model with its components spread out across a desk and a packaged model to show how it might look when used in a hospital.

 

"We wanna use parts that we know really well, we know the reliability of… and they're available in volume," one of Tesla's engineers explains.

 

So far, Musk has delivered 1,000 ventilators to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the ventilators won't be ready in time to help with the apex of the outbreak in New York. Still, Tesla will continue to work on the ventilators, and even if they're late, they could provide some relief for hospitals facing shortages.

 

Rice University develops emergency ventilator.The design for the ApollopBMV is now online. (Photo from Rice University)

 

Big automakers aren't the only ones hoping to help hospitals. A team of engineers at Rice University are building a prototype of a ventilator using 3D printed parts and materials generally found in hobby stores. Nicknamed the ApolloBVM, the device is made up of 3D printed parts and an automated bag-valve-mask, which is used to pump air into patients' lungs. This is surrounded by two "arms" that control the pumping of the valve, allowing it to work automatically.

 

Most ventilators found in hospitals not only weigh hundreds of pounds, they cost thousands of dollars and can take close to two weeks to build. The prototype created by the Rice University team weighs only eight pounds and can be mass-produced for less than $200. This could be a huge benefit for institutions running low on machines as more and more people seek treatment for the virus.

 

But the device still can't outright replace a traditional ventilator. The prototype has 80% of the functionally of a full-size device and would be better suited for less severely ill patients. On top of that, there's still the challenge of training medical practitioners on how to use the crafted ventilator with minimal diagnostic information or troubleshooting.

 

Unfortunately, the rising number in cases leaves little room to be picky. Hospitals interested in the prototype can find instructions on how to create the device on the ApolloBVM website.

 

Boston startup hopes to make 60,000 ventilators a month. Startup founders Tyler Mantel and Alex Frost show off their ventilator prototype. (Photo from Boston Herald)

 

One Boston entrepreneur took it upon himself to start a non-profit organization in an effort to produce 60,000 ventilators a month. Tyler Mantel of Watertown Robotics launched The Ventilator Project with local entrepreneur Alex Frost back in March. The two hope to build a low-cost ventilator that can be massed produced to help hospitals facing shortages.

 

Made using nonmedical supplies, like billows made for beekeepers, Mantel recently confirmed the ventilator is successfully pumping air. His team is currently working on the machine's controls with hopes of presenting it to the Food and Drug Administration for approval within the next few weeks. Once that's locked in, the team plans on making 1,000 devices the first month, 4,000 the next, and eventually 60,000 a month.

 

"It looks more than feasible," Mantel said. "We can get it out quickly, and we can get it out globally. "We're creating a manufacturing plan that any plant in the world could make."

 

The ventilator would cost roughly $5,000; standard hospital ventilators can run for tens of thousands of dollars. The team is currently looking to raise $2.5 million to increase production and are in talks with major distributors.

 

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