One of the companies manufacturing fans for the federal government has increased its production capacity tenfold to meet the demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another has never been in fan manufacturing before, but is working with several other companies to update an old prototype and have up to 10,000 new fans built in a matter of months.
It is part of the federal government’s desire to add up to 30,000 ventilators to Canada’s intensive care units in the battle against COVID-19. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan on Tuesday, saying Ottawa is working with Thornhill Medical in Toronto, CAE in Montreal, Starfish Medical in Victoria and a consortium known as the Ventilators for Canadians.
Fans are artificial respiration devices that help people who are too sick to breathe on their own. The most critically ill COVID-19 patients need a ventilator when pneumonia attacks their lungs too severely.
In Italy and Spain, two of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, the number of patients needing ventilators quickly surpassed the number of devices available, forcing doctors to make heartbreaking decisions about who would get artificial support and who is left to die will almost certainly die.
Thornhill Medical CEO Lesley Gouldie said Wednesday that his Toronto company would normally produce at most 50 ventilators in a month, but will increase it to 500 a month with help from manufacturer Linamar of Guelph, in Ontario.
“It has been an extremely intense period for our business,” said Gouldie in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“We are working very hard with our manufacturing partners to get these products into the hands of Canadians as soon as possible. People are literally working day and night to make this happen. ”
Thornhill has already shipped eight, and Gouldie said more products will be released this month and that most of those produced by Linamar will start shipping in May. In all, Thornhill has a contract for 1,020 aircraft, with the government planning to purchase 900 more.
Canadian hospitals had approximately 5,000 ventilators at the start of the epidemic, and each province is trying to get more. Several hundred patients are already on ventilators in intensive care units, and so far the health system has coped.
If physical distance is strictly observed, most of the pandemic models in Canada already published suggest that there will be an adequate supply of ventilators. If Canada does not stay close to the best scenarios, Canadian doctors will face the same drastic choices as their Italian and Spanish counterparts.
Scott Phillips, CEO of Starfish Medical, said his company is the “preeminent” medical device design company in Canada, but until now ventilators have not been part of its products. In mid-March, a government-funded “supercluster” industry group approached Starfish to work with a Winnipeg company that created a prototype fan 20 years ago that it believed could help with a few updates. up to date.
Starfish and Cerebra Health of Winnipeg are now working together to bring the “Winnipeg Fan” back to life and, within weeks, start producing thousands.
“This is crazy,” said Phillips, of the speed at which this is all happening.
Starfish works with several manufacturers to produce the machines.
Gouldie said the key component of his business is a partnership with Linamar, which normally manufactures machinery and engine parts for cars, boats, wind turbines and agricultural equipment. Thornhill has the design and technical expertise, while Linamar brings its skills in supplying the necessary materials and manufacturing in greater numbers, said Gouldie.
Gouldie said one of the main challenges was finding supplies for the 1,500 components that go into each fan.
“Each day there was a different challenge and each day we rose to the challenge,” she said.
Thornhill and Starfish both say they receive a lot of calls from people around the world who want help with COVID-19, but both focus on the needs of Canada first.
“We have absolutely been approached by companies or organizations on all continents,” said Gouldie. “It was quite extraordinary, the range, the geographic diversity of the people who contacted us, wanting to know if they could access our technology. “
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 8, 2020.