Tesla, which embarked on the effort at the request of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), has not said when a ventilator might be ready for patients. Other large manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors, are partnering with medical device companies and following existing ventilator blueprints, and even they may need months to produce the devices. That would miss the outbreak’s expected peak in the United States, where deaths already have surpassed 10,000.
The devices and manufacturing processes must also clear strict regulatory hurdles, extending the timeline of when the first machines could be deployed.
In the video, Tesla engineers displayed two mock-ups of the ventilator, one with its parts laid out across a lab table and the other packaged and standing as it would in a health-care setting. The device includes the “infotainment” system — the central display monitor that governs functions including a vehicle’s stereo and air conditioning, among dozens of other settings — an air and oxygen mixing chamber and several sensors that are also used in Tesla vehicles.
“We want to use parts that we know really well, we know the reliability of and we can go really fast,” Joseph Mardall, the company’s engineering director, said in the video. “And they’re available in volume.”
Another engineer, who is unnamed in the footage, said Tesla was using its own parts to not disrupt the supply chain of other medical equipment manufacturers.
Other automakers have joined a wartime-like effort to produce medical supplies, including plastic face shields, N95 respirators, powered air purifying respirators, or PAPRs, and ventilators, the most desperately needed device and the most complicated to produce.
Ford partnered with General Electric and 3M to fast-track manufacturing and boost capacity. Ford started 3-D printing hundreds of thousands of face shields last month. But in its collaboration with GE to make ventilators, and with 3M to make PAPRs, some of the first products to roll off the assembly line are still weeks away.
Ford plans to begin production of ventilators on April 20 at Rawsonville Assembly Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., a company spokesman said, and will deliver 50,000 in the next 100 days. General Electric has increased production of its R860 ventilators by 40 percent in the past two weeks.
“There’s so many pieces [to creating these devices], that some are coming on line in days, some in weeks and some in months,” Mike Kesti, 3M’s global technical director of personal safety, told The Washington Post in March.
GM has teamed up with Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators, converting its Kokomo, Ind., plant, where it makes precision electronics.
Elon Musk exchanged tweets with de Blasio in March over a proposal for the CEO’s companies, Tesla and civilian space project SpaceX, to build and send ventilators to New York, the city hit hardest by covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The state’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo (D), has said that his state will need 30,000 ventilators to keep pace with the rate of infection, which is supposed to crest in the coming next week, according to health projections.
Musk might be an unorthodox partner in view of some of his recent comments. He has downplayed the coronavirus’s severity in tweets, incorrectly suggested that children were immune to its effects and tried to keep Tesla’s factory in California open in defiance of public health orders.
He’s also known for pursuing silver-bullet-style solutions to big problems. He delivered a small submarine to rescue a boys’ soccer team trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. The team was rescued, and the vehicle was disregarded by emergency authorities. He also founded the Boring Company in the name of drilling massive tunnels to circumvent traffic.
His company donated what it described as “ventilators” to New York City’s health system at the end of March, but they were not the machines doctors had requested to treat covid-19 patients, according to the Financial Times. Tesla provided bi-level positive airway pressure, or BPAP, machines, noninvasive devices used to treat sleep apnea. Ventilators, by comparison, are invasive, mechanically operating a patient’s lungs by pumping oxygenated air through an intubated tube and sucking out carbon dioxide, mimicking the breathing process.
The prototype Tesla displayed Monday appears to be the kind of ventilator medical professionals have begged for since the start of the virus’s outbreak.