London, Ont., company to assemble low-cost ventilators as part of global collaboration

The inside of the low-cost Mechanical Ventilator Milano, developed as part of a global collaboration. MVM Ventilator Collaboration

A London, Ont.-based industrial tech company is doing its part to supply Canadian medical facilities with much-needed ventilators as part of a consortium of Canadian entrepreneurs and philanthropists formed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ventilators for Canadians, styled V4C for short, is one of several groups currently working with the federal government to produce as many as 30,000 ventilators for intensive care units across the country.

The group was formed by four entrepreneurs and friends, including Scott Shawyer, president and CEO of JMP Solutions of London, which specializes in industrial technologies like robotics, control systems, and automation.

Danby CEO, Jim Estill, leads the consortium, which has several projects in the works to meet the 30,000 ventilator challenge.

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V4C has already developed a field-hospital-style ventilator called the “Ambulatory Bag Compressor” — designed as a quick, temporary option for intensive care units — and has partnered with Baylis, a medical device company, to manufacture thousands of professional, Health Canada-approved ventilators, based on an open-source design by Medtronic Canada.

The group is now also assisting the global research collaboration, Mechanical Ventilator Milano, in developing and manufacturing an open-source, easy-to-produce ventilator that can be assembled with accessible, off-the-shelf parts.

“A typical ventilator’s made of a thousand components that come from suppliers all over the world. And they’re very intricate devices,” Shawyer said in an interview Wednesday with 980 CFPL’s Jess Brady.

“That’s the first choice for hospitals. But all of those supply chains and manufacturers are really, really stretched right now with demand from all over the world.”

The international initiative, spearheaded by researchers in Italy, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, has since expanded to involve more than 100 researchers from at least a dozen countries.

Among them is renowned, Nobel Prize-winning Canadian astrophysicist Dr. Arthur McDonald, who has been leading a team of researchers at the national laboratories TRIUMF, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, and SNOLAB.

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McDonald approached V4C about helping with the project, said Shawyer, who, as engineering director, is heading the consortium’s involvement in the production of the ventilators.

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A lot of countries collaborating on this: Italy, Canada, the U.S., France, the U.K.,” Shawyer said.

“[Arthur] really wanted to see if he could find some Canadian partners that could help build this and produce it in Canada.”

With design of the low-cost ventilator being finalized, and work underway to have the device approved by Health Canada and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, manufacturing will be the next step, Shawyer said.

That’s where JMP Solutions comes in.

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The firm will build the mechanical assembly of the units in Canada and then send them to Vexos, an electronics manufacturer in Markham, Ont., who will install the electronic components, test the machines, package them, and ship them out.

“We’d originally set a goal to ramp up to being able to produce 5,000 of them over the next couple of months, and the government has asked us if we could ramp that goal up to 10,000 by the end of September,” Shawyer said.

“We’re still in the final negotiations for that contract, but those are the numbers we’re tossing around.”

Full production is slated to begin within the first couple weeks of May.

“It’s fantastic,” Shawyer said of the multi-nation effort. “It really is a testament to collaboration, not just in Canada, but around the world… It’s really, really satisfying and it’s really neat to see.

“It’s a real pleasure to be a part of it.”

Canadian hospitals had an estimated 5,000 ventilators at the outset of the pandemic and every province is trying to get more.

If physical distancing is strictly adhered to, most models of the pandemic in Canada already released suggest there will be an adequate supply of ventilators. If Canada doesn’t stay close to the best-case scenarios, Canadian doctors will face the same drastic choices as their Italian and Spanish counterparts.

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Other projects are underway across Canada to produce the life-saving machines, including one in Nova Scotia, and one aimed at updating and manufacturing an old ventilator prototype — the Winnipeg Ventilator.

Bombardier Inc. announced Thursday it would help produce 18,000 ventilators for the Ontario government at its temporarily shuttered plant in Thunder Bay, Ont. in partnership with O-Two Medical Technologies of Brampton, Ont.

— With files from The Canadian Press

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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