- Dräger is one of the world’s biggest ventilator manufacturers.
- Its Spanish subsidiary told Business Insider how the company has handled the spike in demand for its products since the coronavirus crisis began.
- Demand is so high that the quantity of equipment the company has produced to date this year is equivalent to the total quantity of products it manufactured last year.
- While the company is currently meeting demand, it may have to resort to repurposing anesthesia equipment to be used as ventilators.
- Despite the fact that the company already started manufacturing for China at the beginning of the year, one executive said he doesn’t think anyone could have predicted how far and how fast the virus would spread.
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The first ventilator on the market was invented by Dräger in 1907.
Founded in 1889, the multinational is now one of the largest manufacturers of ventilators worldwide.
Its motto, “Technology for Life”, has taken on a new meaning now, as the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the world, making ventilators and personal protective equipment indispensable.
In Spain, the group’s subsidiary, Dräger Iberia, has 400 employees. While the division doesn’t manufacture, it’s responsible for receiving equipment and coordinating with the authorities so it’s distributed according to priority.
They’re all working at full speed to ensure the devices needed are delivered to hospitals nationwide.
The group has been working with authorities to respond to the oversaturation of hospitals and the need for intensive care devices since the crisis first started.
“Before the state of emergency was declared, we basically had to look at the options we could offer in terms of supplying PPE, mainly FFP masks and protective visors, products that are part of our safety division portfolio,” Dionisio Martinez de Velasco, managing director of Dräger Iberia, told Business Insider, referring to personal protective equipment and respirator masks.
He continued: “The need then shifted to the availability of intensive care and transport ventilators and then hemodynamic monitors and anesthesia machines, as plans were made to open more critical care beds.”
Did the company anticipate the demand? The multinational had already increased its production in January in response to China’s coronavirus outbreak and had manufactured a record number of intensive care ventilators.
But Martínez de Velasco said no one was expecting the outbreak to reach the proportions it has: “I don’t believe anyone could have foreseen how far this virus would spread across the globe.”
The shortage has forced the company to explore alternative options.
“At first, we supplied the equipment we had in stock. At the same time, we started buying equipment and PPE in an attempt to respond as quickly as possible,” Martínez de Velasco said. “The situation in other countries was similar to ours, where the spike in demand was simultaneous.”
Hee said the company is “well aware that the delivery of new equipment alone cannot solve the current problem immediately.”
“That’s why we’re working on other types of faster solutions, repurposing equipment that’s currently out of use but which can also help.”
“It’s also worth considering equipment like emergency anesthesia machines or emergency ventilators. They’re not designed for long-term ventilation, so we’d need to modify them. It would also mean health professionals would need thorough training to help foster proper use,” he said.
The company has also coordinated with other manufacturers to acquire anesthesia machines from beauty clinics, ophthalmology clinics, and even veterinary clinics.
They’re coordinating logistics to have these sent to hospitals across the country, as Spanish authorities have requested.
But the manager is somewhat cautious where creative and unorthodox solutions are concerned.
The shortage of ventilators has triggered a wave of 3D ventilator manufacturing initiatives, but these have encountered problems in making their way into hospitals as they’re not approved by the appropriate authorities.
“There are fundamental differences between the tech used in today’s ventilators, in which electronics and software control the pneumatics, and options proposed by those using 3D tech,” Martínez de Velasco said. “The complexity of outsourcing manufacture of this sort is high, especially when you take into account the regulatory requirements. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of a plant that manufactures ventilators only works with a supply chain that’s perfectly coordinated with suppliers who can offer the best quality components.”
Despite not having its own factory, Martínez de Velasco said that responding to Spain’s demand with an appropriate supply of equipment hasn’t been a problem so far.
“We’re aware of the situation not just worldwide but in each country,” he said. “We’re committed to social responsibility, so orders are supplied according to urgency. Without a doubt, supplying the Spanish healthcare system has been high among the company’s priorities.”
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The multinational’s CEO, Stefan Dräger, said in a recent interview that, although Germany ordered a total of 10,000 ventilators from Dräger this month, the manufacturer expected to provide at least an equal amount of the same devices to other countries.
Employing 15,000 people worldwide, 10% of the company’s workforce are in roles directly related to production, quality control, logistics, and supply.
Martínez de Velasco said the company has doubled its production volume since last February and will increase it fourfold in the weeks to come.
He said critical care ventilators cost somewhere between $17,000 and $38,000 depending on their performance.
Though he assures they still don’t have concrete figures to indicate the degree to which their turnover has increased, the total quantity of equipment the multinational has manufactured this year to date has already surpassed the total quantity of equipment produced last year.
“From the moment the material arrives at our warehouses in Spain to the moment it’s put into operation at its destination, Dräger’s goal is that the entire process should take under 24 hours, as it is a matter of life support,” Martínez de Velasco said.
“We’re aware that this sense of urgency right now is essential to save lives.”
This is why all manufacturers and distributors of essential goods keep stressing that the chain of supply and demand, as well as logistics, must be protected so as not to jeopardize supplies.
“All factories are working at full capacity, but we’re also depending on the availability of components. A ventilator needs 500 parts for complete assembly, parts we obtain through a worldwide network of suppliers,” Martínez de Velasco said. “Most of them are European, but some are based in the US, Asia, and in Australia. All suppliers are a key to the system working, but sometimes there can be limitations on components, and this has to be taken into account.”
He said they’re already taking a considerable number of measures to try to help as much as possible and to alleviate this situation.