Jessica Vermeer
24 March 2020

In the ongoing fight against the coronavirus, many ventilation modules are needed to save lives. Demcon and Philips are increasing their production, whereas universities in Delft and Brussels are creating low-cost, simplified respiratory devices on their own.

Demcon subsidiary Macawi, developer of respiratory systems, is facing a ten-fold order intake. The demand is so great that it has decided to set up a second manufacturing line at its parent company in Enschede to double the production. Demcon usually builds between 3,000 and 4,000 modules a year. It’s now upping its assembly crew from 10 to 30.

The doubling of production will take a few weeks. Demcon CEO Dennis Schipper states: “Our suppliers need to be able to deliver components in time. The whole supply chain needs to find creative solutions.” Two of those suppliers are TBP Electronics, which produces and delivers the printed circuit board assemblies, and VDL ETG, which manufactures the platework.

According to Bloomberg, Philips has plans to increase ventilator production four-fold by the third quarter of this year. It also makes medical devices for monitoring vital signs and imaging devices used to view patients’ respiratory systems.

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Demcon Macawi ventilation module
Demcon Macawi is facing a ten-fold order intake for its respiratory modules. Credit: Demcon

Several universities have also joined the cause. At Delft University of Technology, thirty students have started developing a simple and relatively cheap ventilation device. This project, which they named OperationAIR (Operation Assist in Respiration), unites students whose internships in hospitals have been canceled. They will strip the device down as much as possible, only containing essential components.

TU Delft professor Jaap Harlaar, who started the initiative, states it’s impossible to predict how many devices the Netherlands is going to need. “But we expect an enormous shortage. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson alone has ordered 30,000 devices.”

Harlaar emphasizes that his students cannot tackle the problem on their own. They hope to contribute around 500 devices somewhere in April. The designs will be available to everyone. Aalten-based Nivoge Group is supporting the Delft group in manufacturing the systems.

Engineers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel have already developed a prototype. They started out with a design from MIT, extended with sensors based on specifications made by John Hopkins University and the University Hospital of Brussels. Within the next few weeks, they hope to determine whether the devices can be effectively used in hospitals.

Professor Mark Runacres is leading the engineers. “Speed is essential. A working prototype allows for a much quicker decision of whether the design is suitable to use in hospitals.”