The technology giant Foxconn has completed regulatory and quality requirements so it can start building Medtronic ventilators at a facility in Wisconsin.
The companies announced plans Thursday to build 10,000 ventilators over the next year, even as U.S. concerns over ventilator supplies have diminished since the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the country in March and April.
At that point, Medtronic announced it would publicly share design specifications for its Puritan Bennett 560 ventilators to speed global manufacturing. The COVID-19 respiratory illness can cause breathing problems serious enough to force patients onto ventilators.
“No single company can meet the current demands for ventilators that are critical in the fight against COVID-19,” Vafa Jamali, a senior vice president at Medtronic, said in a statement. “Joining together with Foxconn immediately increases our production capacity to meet the increased demand and creates a flexible manufacturing model for us.”
Ventilators can help patients with severe respiratory disease survive, Medtronic said, by letting a patient’s lungs rest and recover while the machine supplies oxygen and simulates the actions of breathing.
This spring, the supply of ventilators in the United States was thought to be a major impediment to treating patients with COVID-19, but concerns have diminished as major U.S. cities have avoided shortages, said Dr. John Hick, an emergency physician who is directing Minnesota’s Statewide Healthcare Coordination Center.
On Thursday, a COVID-19 tracker for Minnesota showed that 547 of the state’s 1,434 ventilators currently are in use. The state said it has surge capacity for another 1,628 ventilators plus 856 machines on back order.
The federal government has been buying a huge number of ventilators, Hick said, and creating a stockpile that’s exceeding demand for the machines. Plus, the projected need for ventilator use has diminished, he said, as evidence grows that masks can prevent spread and medications can help with treatment.
Results this week from a study in the U.K. sparked hopes for treating some severely ill COVID-19 patients with a common steroid medication. Doctors also are using the drug remdesevir in some patients, although there are concerns about limited supplies.
The ventilators to be built in Wisconsin will be marketed and sold by Medtronic, which is based in Ireland and has operational headquarters in Fridley. Taiwan-based Foxconn is best known for assembling Apple’s iPhones at factories in China.
The companies said they can increase production capability to more than double the current Foxconn ventilator commitment.
Medtronic’s ventilator open-source initiative lets global participants evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing. To date, there have been more than 200,000 registrations for the design specifications, Medtronic said Thursday.