COVID-19 has brought an intense surge in demand for critical healthcare, cleaning, and PPE products around the world, and companies are looking for ways to increase or begin production in order to fill this demand. The medical ventilators market currently faces a supply that is far below the amount needed to treat current and anticipated patients. However, ventilators are not simple to produce. They require specialized knowledge and numerous different parts, as well as approval from the FDA or other regulatory bodies to ensure they are safe and effective for medical use.
Despite these challenges, many companies are innovating, partnering, and reconfiguring manufacturing facilities in order to increase the global supply. In addition, the FDA has relaxed some of its requirements in order to allow companies to enter the market more quickly while still protecting patient health. Many companies will still need weeks or months before they can begin delivering medical ventilators, but thanks to cooperation and innovative solutions the supply will increase much faster than it otherwise could. Here are some of the ways that corporations, scientists, and governments are pulling together to provide solutions to the medical ventilators shortage.
Global medical ventilators market growth
Driven by necessity and innovation, the global market for ventilators will grow significantly over the next few years, with a predicted increase of over $2.5 billion between now and 2024. North America is expected to account for more than a third of the market’s growth in this time. The US is being hit hard by the coronavirus, and its current supply is far below what the country will need to treat its expected volume of patients. However, the market will also be growing quickly in Europe and Asia.
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FDA loosens regulatory restrictions
On March 22nd, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took action to help increase the availability of medical ventilators and other devices, providing increased regulatory flexibility and guidance for manufacturers. These changes allow medical device makers to more easily adapt existing products in order to work around supply shortages or other limitations due to the coronavirus. They also enable manufacturers from other industries, such as automakers, to repurpose their facilities for medical device production. In addition, the changes permit health care providers such as hospitals to adapt other machines such as CPAP devices to act as ventilators.
Cross-industry partnerships dramatically increase production capacity
Several companies have been quick to take advantage of the regulatory changes introduced by the FDA. For example, automaker Ford has partnered with GE and 3M to begin producing ventilators in its facilities, along with other protective equipment. Ford is using its production expertise and resources to manufacture a simplified design of GE Healthcare’s medical ventilators, and is offering its facilities for additional medical equipment production.
Ford isn’t the only car company rising to the challenge. General Motors is currently working with medical equipment manufacturer Ventec to produce ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana plant. The team aims to build up to 200,000 ventilators as quickly as possible. However, despite the companies moving at top speed, the time from conception of the initial plan to the start of production will be at least one month: GM has sourced all the parts needed to build the ventilators, but suppliers still need to produce and deliver them. In the meantime, GM has set up a clean room and 100,000 square feet of space that will be devoted to two assembly lines for the devices.
The process is well under way, but GM and Ventec face an additional challenge: the question of costs. GM is building the medical ventilators at cost, and is currently negotiating with the US government about funding, volume of devices, and delivery dates. Despite the lack of a finalized deal, the companies are proceeding with their preparations, as the devices will be sorely needed regardless of how the devices are purchased and by whom.
Several other automakers are joining in the effort, including FCA, Ferrari, and Tesla. However, there are currently few details on how many devices Tesla plans to produce or when they’ll be available, and the ventilators that Elon Musk has donated so far are not actually the type of medical ventilators needed to treat COVID-19, but instead are BiPAP machines typically used to treat sleep apnea. Tesla has said it will be suspending production at its Fremont and Buffalo factories and convert them into ventilator production facilities. The company has developed a prototype using automotive components, but as yet there are as yet no details on when it might be approved or move into production.
Industry experts get creative
Meanwhile, engineers and medical professionals around the world are working to create medical ventilators that are simpler and faster to produce in order to help meet global demand. At Oxford University and King’s College London, teams are creating and testing prototypes for ventilators that can be manufactured quickly using tools that are readily available to SMEs and universities and then sent out to local hospitals. This project, called OxVent, would supplement production from larger and less agile manufacturers, and reduce barriers to entry. The teams plan to make the designs freely available to manufacturers. They hope to have a prototype completed and approved within a few weeks, with a full manufacturing network possible within two or three months.
Not every organization is able to pivot into medical device manufacturing, but there are other ways that companies and teams are helping to increase the availability of medical ventilators. Italian engineers are turning snorkelling masks into ventilator masks using 3D-printed valves to connect the mask to the ventilator. 3D printing company Isinnova has acquired a patent for the valve but has said it will be free to use in order to help address the hospital equipment shortage. Other companies with 3D printers have also been pitching in, providing more standard valves to be used with ventilator masks for hospitals that don’t have enough.
In Spain, Leitat Technology Centre has designed an entire 3D-printed ventilator, which has been approved by medical experts for use in emergencies. The company says it can print 100 of them a day, and hopes to increase production in the future.
The global medical ventilators industry adapts to COVID-19
Ventilators are critical medical devices, and the global COVID-19 pandemic means that demand for them far, far exceeds what hospitals and manufacturers have in stock. Corporations and other organizations around the world are stepping up to meet this challenge, partnering with companies they wouldn’t normally deal with and coming up with creative solutions to the problem. Learn more about the challenges and opportunities currently facing the global medical ventilators market with Technavio’s newest in-depth industry research report.
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