Runaway demand for ventilators has laid bare a grim reality for physicians who need them to treat critically ill
That could make it difficult for automakers to fulfill President
“Even if you have a production line, you are still a long way off; it is all about getting all those components on time,” said Philips Chief Executive Officer
Ventilators are complex medical devices that pump air and oxygen into the lungs and remove carbon dioxide, assisting patients whose lungs otherwise can’t perform the job. The most critically ill coronavirus patients develop severe pneumonia, which can make the devices necessary.
Hospitals in hard-hit countries such as Italy and Spain don’t have as many ventilators as they need. Some doctors say they’ve had to choose which patients to save with limited devices.
Ventilator makers said that, until recently, most of their production was going to the most severely hit countries rather than to the U.S. But many hospitals think it’s just a matter of time before much of the U.S. is in desperate need of ventilators. Already, hospitals in New York City say they’re at the tipping point.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration
Assembling ventilators isn’t simple and requires factories that meet stringent sanitary requirements and other regulations. But even before production gets to that point, the manufacturer needs to find sources of components that go into making a device.
Right now, a handful of companies scattered around the world are responsible for 80% of ventilator production, according to an analysis provided by one leading manufacturer. They include Germany’s
Trump on Sunday tweeted that
General Motors said last week that it’s helping
Automakers that try to make ventilators on their own might find a shortage of necessary ventilator parts, said Mark Van Sumeren, a consultant for medical-device companies in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“It misses a little bit of the point,” said Van Sumeren of using automakers to assemble ventilators. “I don’t think the issue is the capacity of the final manufacturing. The issue is production of components.”
Though the U.S. had more than 2,000 printed circuit board shops like Calumet in the early 2000s, so much production has moved to Asia that now there are fewer than 200, Brassard said, and only a fraction of those are able to create boards for medical devices.
The company put the medical-device orders to the front of their production queue, Brassard said. After posting on Facebook that Calumet was creating ventilator circuit boards, Brassard said other potential customers called to ask about their production capacity.
The printed circuit boards Calumet produces have to be populated, industry parlance for having the components -- mainly semiconductors -- installed onto them and connected. Chips are manufactured, packaged and tested all over the world, adding yet another logistical hurdle.
“People are realizing that there aren’t enough machines out there,” Brassard said.
(Adds shipment of ventilators to New York in 10th paragraph and names of additional manufacturers in 12th paragraph.)
--With assistance from
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.