The plan sounds promising: VW and other car companies have announced that in the corona crisis medical devices will soon be used instead of cars. However, experts do not place too high hopes in the help of car companies: It is unrealistic that companies from outside the industry could switch their production to complex medical technology.
"I can't just make ventilators on a production line that makes cars," says Jean Haeffs, managing director of the Production and Logistics Association at the Association of German Engineers (VDI). Niklas Kuczaty, Managing Director of the Medical Technology Working Group at the VDMA Mechanical Engineering Association, added: "With more complex products like a ventilator, I don't think that's realistic – at least not in the next few weeks and months."
"If that fails, the patient is dead"
According to the experts, the central problems include the complex certification, the supply of parts and knowledge of the production processes – and the question of safety. This is particularly important for a product such as a ventilator, said Kuczaty. "If that fails, the patient is dead."
The consequences are, among other things, strict and complex documentation requirements. A member of the association had built an exact copy of an existing plant, Kuczaty said. "He still had to recertify everything." However, he doesn't think it makes sense to soften the requirements: "It doesn't help if we make tons of ventilators, and in the end the quality is lacking and patients are harmed."
Nevertheless, the experts see ways in which companies from outside the industry can help – only in lower risk classes. A company like the textile manufacturer Trigema, which now also produces simple mouthguards, is a prime example. The Würzburg mattress manufacturer Schaumstoff Wegerich now also produces mouthguards – albeit without certification.
Medical technicians should disclose secrets
It is also conceivable that corporations use their 3D printers to produce missing parts for respirators. "If I have a design drawing that I can read in and the appropriate plastic granules are available, it can be converted in an hour," said Haeffs.
But there are also hurdles for use in 3D printing of parts: On the one hand, this only makes sense if there are medical technology manufacturers, the capacity for production, but there are gaps in the supply chain that can be filled with printed parts, said Kuczaty . On the other hand, the medical technology companies would have to release their data, as Haeffs said. "The inhibitions are very high." After all, the companies didn't want to provide potential competitors with knowledge.
The Lübeck ventilator manufacturer Dräger apparently is considering cooperation. The company had its first talks with Daimler, the reported. The federal government's plans to purchase thousands of new ventilators were "by far the largest order in the company's history," said CEO Stefan Dräger to the broadcaster, production would be ramped up, and the company had been threatened with job cuts in the fall.