Can you bake a cake while watching a YouTube or descriptive video with ingredients you have laying in your pantry? Could you build a ventilator if you were given comprehensive visual instructions and a list of easily-sourced parts? On top of showing us that it is indeed possible, Alex Frost and Tyler Mantel from The Ventilator Project demonstrate that manufacturers can do it faster and at a much lower cost.
Ventilators - Our Artificial Lungs
“Ventilators save lives” is a statement we have all grown accustomed to hearing during the pandemic. It's true that they do, but it's also just as important to take into account how the ventilator shortage affects us all. Since coronavirus infections lead to complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress in patients, ventilators tremendously help patients breathe while giving the medical staff a breather too.
Having patients on ventilators eases the duties of the front liners and lowers the risk of them catching the virus, therefore lowering the overall population spread. With reduced pressure on the whole medical system, we stand a chance to adequately respond to the alarming number of incoming cases.
So, why aren’t we just making more of these “life jackets” then? At the end of the day, the overall logistics are just too much to handle during a pandemic because ventilators are expensive and take time to produce. Yet, the story of a Boston start-up reveals there is a new way of doing things, a better way.
The Ventilator Project
It started with two minds that recognized the need for a ventilator that would be cheaper and faster to mass-produce during the daunting rise in COVID-19 cases around the world and especially, in the United States.
Tyler Mantel and Alex Frost are the two entrepreneurs and robotics enthusiasts behind The Ventilator Project. They have both paused their other ventures to devote all their time to working on the growing ventilator shortage. In less than two months, more than 200 volunteers have come together to support and see this project move forward.
The Boston start-up has gathered a diverse community of individuals from various backgrounds. The one element they have in common? They are all passionate about finding a better solution for the shortage. Everyone wants to bring something new to the table: engineers, doctors, FDA specialists, Hank - the dog and even a bellow bee smoker’s manufacturer, all working selflessly to make the scalable solution a reality.
History shows us that adversity moves people to do good and this time it is about Aira.
Aira: “A Rapid And Scalable Solution To Solve The Global Ventilator Shortage”
The new ventilator, named Aira, is re-designed to be cheaper, faster to build, and with a greater air capacity.
The humanitarian mission of this project expands beyond the initial impulse to help patients battle the faceless enemy; it breathes new life into the stalled economy and tired supply chain.
Aira is stimulating the manufacturing industry while simultaneously enabling medical centers to afford more ventilators and lower the front liners’ exposure to the virus. While its focus may lie in saving lives, The Ventilator Project's production model will create additional business for medical devices manufacturers, while also opening up a coveted doorway into the field for general contract manufacturers looking to revitalize their business.
The Ventilator Project can also contribute to improving employees’ sentiment and confidence by having them work toward a globally valuable goal… something that we at VKS can definitely attest to! Multiple members of our Customer Success team were jumping at the opportunity of working with them on this. Additionally, The Ventilator Project gives numerous organizations a chance to quickly get back in business with little cost and effort due to the established network of industry experts, and business professionals supporting this initiative.
We know firsthand how hard the pandemic hit the non-essential manufacturers. Only those facilities that had the right conditions to swiftly shift production to essentials are surviving the economic distress.
Aira, the artificial lung, will help manufacturers and supply chain professionals restore vital activities as it would do for a patient’s respiratory system.
The Cake Analogy
In, Knowledge Management During the Pandemic, we identified what gives manufacturers the flexibility to easily adjust their production and stay relevant. To illustrate this possibility, imagine seeing online a ridiculously delicious-looking cake shared by chef Marie.
Let’s be honest, you want a slice of it and you want it now! Wouldn’t it be nice if Marie shared a video with all the baking instructions and a list of down-to-earth ingredients so you nail it on the first try? Without wasting products or nerves, the result materializes and fulfills your expectations of a delightful cake ready to be enjoyed. It works exactly the same in manufacturing!
A manufacturing facility that employs the right mix of people, vision, and integrated capabilities can mass-produce Aira and overcome the economic pressure the coronavirus has put upon us all.
Taking this concept even further, we can perceive the efficiency stemming from employing this very model within the manufacturing supply chain. Dragging a time-sensitive project like Aira through the convoluted process of companies bidding their solutions will take months to design a prototype and see it reach the assembly line.
Why not have one company design the entire model, as The Ventilator Project did, and provide manufacturers with the whole production-ready package: the materials, the visual production guides, and the necessary quality checks along the way. It is a win-win situation that eliminates so much waste along the pipeline.
VKS at the Cornerstone of Re-Inventing the Supply Chain
Some of The Ventilator Project volunteers, being industry experts, naturally knew to launch this new initiative with innovative technology stemming from the industry 4.0 revolution.
When contacted, we were thrilled to provide our visual and digital platform to build the step-by-step work instructions for the Aira ventilator. By using VKS The Ventilator Project team can easily monitor that manufacturers meet all the predetermined building conditions. Additionally, by sharing these very step-by-step visual work instructions with their supply chain, the Boston team will also be able to easily ramp up production while guaranteeing the quality of their products.
The key to Aira becoming a mass-produced ventilator is its dependence on FDA approval. There are certain criteria the ventilator has to follow to become useful and fulfill its initial purpose of saving lives. To meet all the outlined regulations, the design, materials used and work instructions have to produce a machine that passes all necessary FDA tests and ensures the same reliability for any manufacturer that undertakes the project.
A benefit of using the VKS platform is its plug and play FDA Part 11 features, and its capability to integrate all those quality checks directly within the work instructions. It goes without saying that an FDA-approved machine that is cheap and easy enough to mass-produce needs to also be defect-free. This is another milestone that The Ventilator Project overcomes by using VKS to build Aira.
The usage of VKS’ Smart Forms feature allows companies to automatically capture a digital device history record, simply by the shop floor operator following the work instructions. Think of this as having a digital ledger recording who, when, and for how long did use a particular blender to mix the cake batter.
On top of integrating Smart Forms and tracking production in real-time, VKS will also provide Aira builders with a scalable solution with options for higher levels of integration as needed. With elaborate APIs and its Connect add-on modules, VKS allows companies to connect with assembly tools and test equipment for increased process control and traceability within the operation.
“Why Isn’t Everyone Doing This?” - It Is Possible
At first, The Ventilator Project’s goals seemed hopeless as medical ventilators’ prices ranged from about $25,000 to $50,000 for just one machine. But the dedicated team was able to bring together the people, motivation and right instruments to create Aira that can be sold for $5,000 per unit and is ready to scale production up to 60,000 ventilators per month.
Just to think that all of this happened in less than two months.
“Why isn’t everyone doing this?” That’s a question our very own Director of Business Development, Ryan Zimmermann asked during a meeting we had covering the partnership. "What The Ventilator Project is doing is brilliant. They're saving lives, and simultaneously re-inventing the supply chain model."
To get back to the cake analogy, The Ventilator Project using the VKS work instruction software to provide manufacturers with the necessary work instructions to produce the product is equivalent to the chef making their recipes available to the general public. Why not share knowledge and best practices instead of forcing your supply chain to reinvent the wheel each time? A more open approach to the supply chain could launch a new era of manufacturing with shorter lead times, higher quality products, and in a world starving for it, less waste.
This simple, yet incredibly forward-thinking approach is disrupting the standard ventilator production method and is giving this innovative start-up team the ability to accomplish their goal of providing a feasible artificial lung project that is scalable.
Check out the VKS Case Studies to see how companies use VKS to solve industry challenges.