Two Minnesota medtech contract manufacturers are taking a hard look at producing ventilators, including one from the plans that Medtronic made public last week to address the coronavirus outbreak.
Maple Grove-based Nortech Systems (NSDQ:NSYS) told Medical Design & Outsourcing it is seriously considering starting to produce the machines based on the design specifications of Medtronic’s Puritan Bennett 560 (PB 560) ventilator to help ease the global shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokeswoman for Minnetronix Medical (St. Paul) said the company continues to review the Medtronic PB560 specs as they become available. Nortech also needs more specific information than the Medtronic plans provide, but Nortech president & CEO Jay Miller said it’s not unusual for OEMs to offer fewer specifics than contract manufacturers need, at least initially.
“With these designs, there are some things we would have to work through a little bit and we would have to work through the details of the supply chain,” Miller said. “As we ramp, we can produce thousands of them. We’re taking about weeks to ramp as opposed to months.”
Nortech already makes parts for ventilators, including complex cable assemblies and printed circuit boards. One customer has already asked the company to increase its ventilator parts production “right now, as fast as we can,” Miller said in a telephone interview, declining to name the customer.
Nortech also does “box build,” making an entire medical device. Although it doesn’t box build ventilators today, “that’s exactly what we’re talking about,” Miller said. “The situation with the Medtronic design, it kind of fits what we do very well. We can react very quickly and take deep dive into the design. I have a pretty good sense of how quickly we can ramp and start to build a supply chain.”
Nortech also manufactures for the defense industry and general industry. It has six plants in Minnesota and can prepare to produce ventilators as soon as it signs on a company to market, sell, distribute and service the machines, according to Miller.
“We have talked to a few companies about potentially having them market and sell and then service the product,” he added. “As a smallish contract manufacturing company, we’re pretty nimble. We are what people in the industry call a low-volume, high-mix business. We we have to be able to react.”
Ventilators are complex machines consisting of hundreds of parts. Their supply matters more now because doctors treating people with COVID-19 have had to make life-and-death decisions about which severely ill patients get the devices and which do not. Some hospitals are resorting to using the same ventilator for up to four patients simultaneously. New York governor Andrew Cuomo last week said his state alone needs 40,000 more ventilators as states scramble to source them on their own.
Other medical device companies are rapidly expanding ventilator production, trade group AdvaMed reported last week. Respiratory device companies that belong to AdvaMed have boosted ventilator production to 2,000–3,000 per week, and expect to soon reach 5,000–7,000 ventilators per week. Last year, the same companies were making only about 700 ventilators per week for domestic distribution.
Medtronic spokesman Ben Petok said late this afternoon that the company has seen more than 70,000 downloads of and registrations from the link to its ventilator plans. “A range of entities have contacted us, from large-scale manufacturers to innovative engineers and work groups,” Petok added.
Nortech would manufacture ventilators in Minnesota for now, but could expand to the company’s plants in Suzhou, China, and Monterrey, Mexico, if necessary, according to Miller.
“This is the first wave of COVID-19, and unfortunately we’re probably going to see another wave or two of this,” he said. “We expect demand is not going to be short term and there will be continued demand for this.”
This article has been updated with a clarification from Minnetronix Medical and information from Medtronic.