Medtronic is sharing design specifications for a basic ventilator model with any company that wants to help produce them for hospitals racing to treat coronavirus patients as the medical device maker discusses a manufacturing partnership with Elon Musk’s Tesla. Separately, Musk said he’s donating an unspecified number of ventilators to hospitals in need of them.
The Dublin-based company on Monday posted specs for its PB 560 ventilator “to enable participants across industries to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing to help doctors and patients dealing with COVID-19.” Software and other information for the compact model, on the market since 2010 and sold in 35 countries, will also be added for downloadsoon, the company said.
“Medtronic recognizes the acute need for ventilators as lifesaving devices in the management of COVID-19 infections. We know this global crisis needs a global response,” Executive Vice President Bob White said in a statement. “By openly sharing the PB 560 design information, we hope to increase global production of ventilator solutions for the fight against COVID-19.”
The move comes ahead of formal plans to make ventilators with Tesla that Musk tweeted about this month. Last week Musk donated more than 1,200 ventilators to Los Angeles hospitals, and on Tuesday he tweeted that Tesla has “extra FDA-approved ventilators. Will ship to hospitals worldwide within Tesla delivery regions. Device & shipping cost are free. Only requirement is that the vents are needed immediately for patients, not stored in a warehouse. Please [let] me or @Tesla know.” He provided no details on how many of the devices Tesla has or where they came from.
In contrast to ventilator production tie-ups between General Motors and Ventec and Ford and GE Healthcare, there are few details so far about the Medtronic-Tesla alliance beyond Musk’s comments and remarks from Medtronic CEO Omar Israk in a CNBC interview last week.
“We have an ongoing collaboration with Tesla around ventilators that spans from ventilator component manufacturing to full-scale ventilator production,” Medtronic spokeswoman Erick Winkels tells Forbes. “We are hopeful that something can come from this collaboration but don’t have any other details to provide at this time.”
Musk tweeted on March 25, 2020, that Tesla’s Buffalo, New York, plant that makes solar panels and related products would be converted to make ventilators “as soon as humanly possible.” Winkels wasn’t able to provide details on whether Medtronic engineers visited the Buffalo plant and are in consultation with Tesla on the sourcing of materials, components and production equipment to make ventilators there. The project with Tesla may range from making the PB 560 as well as components spanning Medtronics’ PB 560 and PB 980 model lines, she said.
“One of the products that we make—it is not our prime product right now, is one that is perfectly suitable, at least in some of these instances—they will make,” Israk told CNBC with regard to Tesla’s role. “They are doing that in parallel while we are focusing on the product that is our largest-volume product, [which is] the PB 980.”
The Buffalo plant, along with Tesla’s main electric car factory in Fremont, California, were idled this month amid stay-at-home orders for most businesses and workers to help curb the spread of COVID-19. While the New York factory has equipment for highly precise production work, it’s not ideal for making medical devices, a person familiar with the plant tells Forbes.
“It’s populated with equipment for making solar panels, which is more like semiconductor process equipment. This would be worthless for ventilator manufacturing,” said the person, who hasn’t been in the factory for more than a year. “However, a good chunk of the facility was for assembly of solar modules. I think this area could be modified much easier.”
The challenge “is more of a supply-chain issue and laborers,” the person said. “Sourcing of parts from injection mold houses and 3D printing companies will be a big deal. Elon should be able to rally his team for this work.”