Moving from ventilators to testing

Departments - Editor’s Letter

Ventilators are being produced; Now it’s a push for testing, but the answers vary on how much is necessary.

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Elizabeth Engler Modic, Editor

In the middle of February, emails about powerful disinfection techniques – from UV lights to sterilization – to battle the coronavirus were on the rise. By the first week of March email topics had taken a turn, focusing on the need to increase ventilator production. (Watch our webinar about how Ford, GE Healthcare, and Airon partnered to produce ventilators.) That was followed by urgent calls for personal protection equipment (PPE).

Now it’s a push for testing, but the answers vary on how much is necessary.

In my home state of Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine recently created a Testing Strike Team led by two former Ohio governors, Bob Taft and Dick Celeste, who will use their skills, networks, and contacts to increase COVID-19 testing capacity in Ohio – alleviating bottlenecks in the supply chain for reagents, swabs, and test processing. As of this writing Ohio had a test rate of <0.7%.

According to “The National COVID-19 Testing Action Plan,” from Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. needs expanded testing capacity to 3 million tests per week by June and then expand capacity to 30 million tests per week during the next six months.

From the “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience,” by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, the testing number is 20 million.

“What we need to do is much bigger than most people realize,” the authors write, noting the country needs massive scale-up testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine; delivery of 5 million tests per day by early June, increasing to 20 million a day to fully remobilize the economy. So far, the U.S. has only performed around 4 million coronavirus tests.

Manufacturers are ramping up to address the needs.

In April Tessy Plastics booked a $65 million order with ATS Automation Tooling Systems (ATS) for the design, build, and delivery of two automated manufacturing systems within the next four months to produce 10 million units of critical components for point-of-care testing kits per month. In just 15 weeks, Tessy will be hiring 200 people to produce the entire test kit that consists of 20 components, requiring 50 molding machines, several automated assembly lines, and a cleanroom – all taking place in a former warehouse in Auburn, New York.

Strict regulations and the need to ensure near-flawless execution often gives medical manufacturing a reputation for being slow and methodical. The pandemic is shattering that reputation, showing how innovative companies can pair advanced technologies such as automation with medical-grade quality and competence. Converting an old warehouse into advanced manufacturing space with cleanroom capabilities is just one example of how medical manufacturers are tackling COVID-19.

Send me an email and let me know how your company has scaled production, added automation, or turned on a dime to help battle the pandemic.