The Rhineland-Palatinate medium-sized company Lowenstein has put up a virtual “Do not disturb” sign: On the website, the medical technology manufacturer explicitly refers to a press release and asks to refrain from further inquiries. The company with around 2000 employees internationally works at full speed. Because Lowenstein recently received an order from the Federal Government for 6,500 ventilators receive. The devices are said to be available over the next three months. It started in February to significantly increase production, not least due to the demand from China. “We are now fully concentrating on our supply contract,” said Lowenstein. There are currently no restrictions in the areas of supply and production.
The medical and security technology manufacturer Drager also received an order from Berlin: 10,000 ventilators, the largest order in the history of the group with an estimated volume of at least 200 million euros due to coronavirus outbreak. In order to process the order, the group has to increase its capacity at the Lubeck location at record speed. It is not just about the manufacture of the devices, but also about test rooms, of which there are too few. In addition, component suppliers are currently difficult to find, and deliveries also go abroad, most recently to Italy.
The seriousness of the situation shows that the Federal Government is addressing manufacturers directly with such orders. In Germany, there are 28,000 beds in intensive care units, of which 20,000 can currently be used as ventilation places. Not every coronavirus patient will need ventilation, but heart attacks and strokes will continue. Last but not least, the images of completely overcrowded hospitals in Italy are probably the ones that move us to act.
America’s President Donald Trump talks to the heads of auto companies like GM and Ford about whether they can manufacture ventilators in the future. These discussions also take place in other countries: Italy is talking to Fiat-Chrysler, Ferrari and other companies. In some countries and online forums, 3D printing is being considered for some parts.
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In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched an industry call to switch production. The state health service NHS only has 8175 devices. There is great fear that this will soon no longer be enough. More than 20,000 devices are to be manufactured within two weeks, Johnson said. The government has contacted 60 companies, most of which have been canceled. The aviation and armaments company Meggitt, which manufactures oxygen masks for aircraft pilots, has headed a consortium, as have Nissan and Formula 1 designer McLaren. However, German car manufacturers are rather cautious.
The fact that governments use such drastic means is also due to the fact that ventilators are not a common product, as a look at the market shows. Due to better medical care in many countries and an increasingly aging society in developed countries, this is growing globally on average by more than 6 percent a year, starting from more than $ 4 billion in 2018, predicts the analysis house Grandview. Depending on the complexity, they are priced upwards of around 20,000 euros.
Not a common product
In addition to Drager, GE, and Philips, for example, are suppliers and Becton-Dickinson in America. The Swedish company Getinge is also a larger producer and is ramping up production by 60 percent this year, starting from more than 10,000 devices last year. Medtronic in Ireland and Hamilton in Switzerland are other providers. The Hamilton family business typically produces 220 devices a week. Hamilton has increased production by 50 percent since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. More than 20,000 devices are to be manufactured in the entire year. The further production is ramped up, the greater the risk of supplier bottlenecks, as it is said here with other manufacturers.
It will be difficult for industrial companies to step in quickly. The devices fall under medical technology, which is subject to strict approvals and certifications. Mechanics and electronics have to work flawlessly after all the devices are used for patients who are often very weak and fighting with Coronavirus. “In terms of design and medical requirements, respirators are so complex and sensitive that in the current emergency situation only an increase in production capacity at established companies is an option,” says the medical technology association BVMed.