Medtronic's public release of the plans for one of its mechanical ventilators is one push in a worldwide quest to build much-needed ventilators for COVID-19 patients, some of whom can be saved with the help of the devices.
Two longtime medical manufacturers in the Twin Cities — one of which approached the governor's office this week — said they might be able to make the devices quickly.
As major companies like Tesla and Dyson work to convert existing manufacturing capacity to make ventilators, tinkerers and engineers across the U.S. are poring over the Medtronic schematics to see if they can spin up their own production. Medtronic said the plans were downloaded more than 50,000 times this week, though a few more documents needed to make the device are due for release Friday.
Amid the pandemic, attention has focused on the humble ventilator, a device designed to supply oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from patients whose lungs are so full of fluid they can't do the job themselves.
Ventilators are critical in preserving the lives of patients with the most severe effects from COVID-19, and their limited supply has become one of the most-watched bottlenecks in the health care system. Public health officials are using the number of ventilators in the state as a key benchmark in figuring out how many COVID patients could be treated at one time during peak demand.
A research assistant at the University of Minnesota quickly developed a ventilator in recent weeks from parts that cost about $150. That device, dubbed the "Coventor," has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency authorization and has already attracted a partnership from Boston Scientific, and perhaps others, to help bring the ventilator to market.
Medtronic on Monday made the blueprints for the Puritan Bennett 560 available for anyone who wants to try to ramp up production of the machines. The documents include hundreds of pages of detailed schematics, including more than 300 mechanical parts, circuit boards and software that make it work.
Medtronic called the PB560 a "solid ventilation solution for manufacturers, inventors, startups and academic institutions seeking to quickly ramp up ventilator design and production."
St. Paul-based Minnetronix Medical, which manufactures medical devices under contract for other firms, told Gov. Tim Walz's administration Wednesday that it could quickly begin making ventilators for Minnesotans, potentially using the plans published by Medtronic.
Matt Adams, general manager for respiratory care with Minnetronix, said the plans appear to be workable, though the final documents are still pending. The company could scale up production within three weeks, if needed, though the PB560 is only one of the devices Minnetronix is considering.
A second contract manufacturer, Maple Grove's Nortech Systems, said the Medtronic ventilator plans look promising, and engineers are looking into whether it could be a viable product that another company would order it to make.
The PB560 is manufactured in Ireland, just like the Puritan Bennett 980, Medtronic's flagship ventilator. Production of the two models is about 300 per week right now, a company spokesman said, and will ramp up to 400 per week by the end of April, 700 per week by the end of May and 1,000 per week by the end of June.
"The growth is coming from both 980s and 560s," said John Jordan, a Medtronic spokesman.
Kyle Wiens, a software engineer in California who writes about engineering and repair, downloaded the material from Medtronic's website and knows of a couple groups of engineers trying to spin up production based on what Medtronic has released. It will take time, he said.
"This is a complex product involving hundreds of parts. There's many circuit boards, software required to make all the parts talk to each other. Setting up a new manufacturing line that has made a complex product like this before is a daunting, challenging task," Wiens said.
Weins said America has the engineering talent to make the devices, but it's not clear how quickly production could begin.
"The question is how long it will take. Can it be done in a month or six weeks? I'm not sure. Could it be done in three months? I would think so," Wiens said. "But you need a team of very talented, capable people working 24/7, flat out."
Wiens said he knows of at least a couple dozen teams of engineers working on making less-complex ventilators, and there probably should be some federal coordination of those efforts so that a simpler machine can be put into production.
"I think what we need right now is simple solutions that we can scale up," Wiens said.