Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised to build ventilators in a Tesla factory to help address the shortage currently facing the United States. As cases of COVID-19 spike around the country, the need for lifesaving medical equipment has never been greater. In response, companies like Tesla are turning automobile production lines into ones that make ventilators.
Despite its efforts, Tesla has been criticized for designing a new ventilator rather than working with existing designs. On Sunday, the company released a YouTube video documenting its progress on a ventilator prototype. It turns out, the delay is for a reason.
In the words of Tesla engineering director Joseph Mardall, “We wanna use parts that we know really well, we know the reliability of… and they’re available in volume.”
Building a Better Ventilator
The turnaround time on Tesla’s ventilator prototype is incredible considering the successful demonstration that it unveiled. It almost exclusively uses parts from Tesla’s cars, including the Model 3 and the Model S.
Using these parts should help the company rapidly scale up its production of ventilators. By contrast, using parts not already available in the factory could lead to manufacturing delays.
Tesla’s ventilator prototype utilizes components like the Model 3’s infotainment screen, onboard computer, and control machinery. The display is used to show healthcare workers a patient’s breathing pattern and its touchscreen offers control over the ventilator.
Meanwhile, the Model S’s suspension system is a key component of the device. The prototype ventilator also includes a battery backup and its own air supply. These features would allow it to continue operating for about 20 to 40 minutes while a patient is transported.
As of now, it isn’t clear whether Tesla is ready to start mass-producing the ventilator it showed off in the video. Considering that it still looks a bit rough, production is likely at least a week away. Nonetheless, the fact that Tesla is making rapid progress on its ventilator is encouraging.
So long as the company can quickly scale up production after finalizing the design, its ventilator will be used to save lives around the country.
Of course, Tesla isn’t the only car company that is working to produce ventilators and other medical equipment. In the United States, both Ford and General Motors have announced plans to manufacture devices as well.
Unlike Tesla, these companies are working with traditional healthcare equipment manufacturers to create simplified versions of their ventilators. GM has partnered with Ventec Life Systems while Ford is working GE’s healthcare division.
Meanwhile, Tesla’s efforts aren’t restricted to designing a new ventilator. Musk is also purchasing FDA-approved medical equipment and shipping it to hospitals and other facilities in need. This tactic has drawn some criticism as many of the devices are BPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) machines and not true ventilators. Although these aren’t as useful for intensive care units, they are still better than nothing.
Aside from Tesla, Musk’s other company, SpaceX, is producing a key component for Medtronic ventilators according to the manufacturer.