Electronics manufacturing service Flex will significantly ramp up its ventilator production to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, reported Bloomberg. The firm, which makes Apple’s Mac Pro desktop computers, typically only produces around 30,000 breathing machines per year. But in light of the COVID-19 crisis, the company intends to begin fabricating between 25,000-30,000 ventilators by May or June.
Why Flex is Uniquely Suited to Mass-Produce Ventilators
In recent weeks, corporations like Ford, GM, and Dyson have announced plans to begin mass-producing ventilators in response to shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, despite their good intentions, those brands don’t possess the expertise or production capacity to fabricate large quantities of breathing machines quickly.
However, as a contract manufacturer that operates in a range of industries, Flex has both.
The company also maintains a diverse supply chain with facilities in the United States, Mexico, and China. As such, the firm has the capability to source materials and procure specialized parts around the world. The manufacturer’s experience and production capacity give it the ability to quickly get ventilators to regions hard-hit by shortages such as New York and New Jersey.
3D Printing as a Manufacturing Solution
One problem Flex encountered in ramping up its ventilator production is a lack of parts. Currently, manufacturers buy proprietary tubes and valves from small specialty companies. Because of a COVID-19 prompted spike in demand, ventilator components aren’t readily available in large quantities.
Flex is attempting to address the issue by reverse-engineering the valves and tubes it has on hand so it can 3D print copies. Notably, the company isn’t the first organization to employ that unique approach during the coronavirus pandemic. An Italian hospital tasked additive manufacturers with fabricating enough breathing machine parts to keep its ventilators up and running.
Once seen as a fringe production methodology, 3D printing is increasingly coming in vogue with large organizations that need lots of obscure parts. The United States Air Force has turned to additive manufacturers to make obsolete parts for its aging aircraft fleet. The Defense Department is now evaluating the feasibility of using 3D printing to shore up its global supply chain.
Given its application as an emergency equipment solution, additive manufacturing will likely see more usage during the current global health crisis. As a result, the technology, and providers like Flex, will probably garner a lot of mainstream attention in the post-outbreak world.