It is no surprise to those in the AM industry that additive has the power to dramatically speed up product development times. However, it is always interesting to see exactly how it happens, especially in cases where time is of the essence. The Rise Emergency Ventilator, developed in just 21 days to meet the dire need in hospitals, is one such example.
When the real toll of the COVID-19 pandemic started to set in across the world, many things became clear. Chief among them was that hospitals in even some of the wealthiest nations were not well equipped to handle a crisis of this scale. Too soon, we saw a severe shortage of ventilators: the device needed to keep vulnerable patients alive. To address the shortage, a number of initiatives were launched to develop a rapidly deployable ventilator.
One of these projects was initiated by government officials in the U.S., who reached out to Meter, a Boston-based startup that is still in stealth mode, to design an affordable ventilator that could be manufactured and deployed rapidly. The new ventilator also could not integrate many components used in conventional ventilator systems, which were (and are) all in very high demand.
Starting in late March, Meter became 100% dedicated to developing a ventilator solution, leveraging its team members’ various areas of expertise. For instance, one Meter engineer had experience researching manual bag resuscitator controls at Massachusetts General Hospital, while others had deep knowledge of manufacturing and hardware products.
In conceiving the ventilator design, the Meter team wanted to focus on integrating monitor and alarm systems, which would allow medical staff to remotely monitor multiple patients at once using text alerts and a web-based dashboard. To take the project further, Meter also enlisted the help from 3D printing companies, hospital clinicians, software developers and sheet metal fabricators. Partners on the Rise Emergency Ventilator project include PTC, Desktop Metal, Formlabs, FATHOM, CANCAN, Rigado, Prototek, Tulip, Precision Graphics and CircuitHub.
With an extensive team of about 50 people, the development of the ventilator got underway quickly. According to Eduardo Torrealba, Co-Founder and CEO of Meter, they had already completed two revisions to the mechanical design and had started 3D printing parts within the first seven days of development. PTC’s Onshape product development platform proved critical, as it enabled multiple people to work on the same CAD model remotely.
Within three weeks, the Rise Emergency Ventilator had gone through six design iterations. Beyond the design, the partners also had to account for another challenge: strained supply chains. That is, with many resources (especially for medical components) in demand, the partners wanted to design the ventilator in a way that circumvented these challenge, using components not earmarked for specialized medical use and using on-demand 3D printing for rapid prototyping.
Desktop Metal’s 3D printing technology played an important role in the early prototyping phase, producing standard off-the-shelf parts which were not immediately available due to supply chain problems. “We actually printed parts that we also ordered from suppliers, but we knew that we were going to get them off the metal 3D printer 24 or 48 hours faster because of the disruption in the logistics networks,” Torrealba explained.
“Normally, I would never go through that much trouble to save 24 or 48 hours, but with the speed that we were moving at, it was a huge deal,” he added. “Because of COVID, we had multiple delayed items we ordered from very dependable suppliers that we work with all of the time. They would say they were delivering tomorrow and then they’d say that for the next three days in a row. Having the dependability of metal 3D printing was incredibly important for us during our prototyping stages.”
Overall, the team worked incredibly hard to bring the Rise Emergency Ventilator to life. And now, the low-cost and easy-to-manufacture medical device is ready should the need arise. To prepare for the “second peak” in COVID-19 cases, which is expected to happen this fall, the Rise team is looking for manufacturing partners to scale up production. The system is remarkably accessible. While conventional ventilators cost between $25,000 to $50,000, the Rise Ventilator can reportedly be made for under $1,000.
The Rise Emergency Ventilator is now being reviewed by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meter will also be providing a bill of materials, list of suppliers, manufacturing instructions and factory calibration and testing routines.