Runaway demand for ventilators has laid bare a grim reality for physicians who need them to treat critically ill coronavirus patients: The U.S. doesn't have just a shortage of ventilators, it doesn't have enough parts to produce more.
That could make it difficult for automakers to fulfill President Donald Trump's wish that they manufacture the lifesaving devices. It's also beginning to limit companies that specialize in making ventilators, which say their own factories can ramp up production but need suppliers across the globe to send more circuit boards, tubes and other parts.
Dutch company Royal Philips NV said Monday that it wants to double its ventilator output in the next eight weeks. The company recently had to step in to help one supplier in the Philippines get approval to remain open and make a sensor for its ventilators, despite the rest of the country being on lockdown.
"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 Frans van Houten.
Vyaire Medical Inc. added a second shift at its ventilator factory in Palm Springs, Calif., but says its main limitation will be suppliers' ability to deliver the circuit boards and other electronic components that go into the breathing machines, said Cheston Turbyfill, a company spokesman. Vyaire gets those parts from China and Malaysia, and is trying to find additional suppliers.
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.
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.
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 Draegerwerk AG; Philips in the Netherlands; Medtronic Plc, incorporated in Ireland with "operational headquarters" in Minneapolis; Getinge AB of Sweden; Switzerland's Hamilton Medical AG; and Vyaire, which is based in Mettawa, Ill. Of these, only Vyaire and Philips have assembly plants in the U.S., the analysis shows.
Trump on Sunday tweeted that Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Tesla Inc. have been "given the go ahead to make ventilators." It was unclear what Trump meant, but the car companies did say they are assessing whether their manufacturing facilities could be brought to the level required by the Food and Drug Administration for making medical devices.
General Motors said last week that it's helping Ventec Life Systems in Bothell, Wash., ramp up production of ventilators and other equipment by lending "logistics, purchasing and manufacturing expertise." Ford said Tuesday that it plans to build a simplified ventilator in partnership with General Electric Co. -- but that production might not begin until "early June."
Business on 03/26/2020
Print Headline: Scarcity of parts hampers ramp-up