Healthcare and biomedical engineering company Medtronic was in the news recently because Tesla CEO Elon Musk had discussions with the company about the automaker’s potential plans to build ventilator hardware in order to address the COVID-19 crisis. Today it’s doing something potentially far more impactful. Medtronic is making available to anyone the full design specifications, produce manuals, design documents and, in the future, software code for its Puritan Bennett (PB) 560 portable ventilator hardware.
The PB 560 ventilator has a number of advantages, one being that it’s a relatively compact and lightweight piece of equipment that can be easily moved around and installed for use in a range of different healthcare environments and settings. And it’s a design that was originally introduced in 2010, so it has a decade of qualified, safe medical use in treating patients.
There are plenty of efforts underway to produce ventilators and design new ventilators that manufacturers of other devices, like Dyson, can put into production. And others are trying to modify existing hardware to serve more patients. But this move by Medtronic makes freely available everything needed to spin up new production lines at existing manufacturers around the world — without any costs or fees owed to Medtronic.
It’s still obviously true that retooling a production line to build a different product is going to be an undertaking, no matter what kind of design specifications you’re starting with. But this initiative by Medtronic is also intended to provide the resources necessary for anyone looking at what they can build today — a blueprint to spawn new and innovative ideas. Manufacturers might be able to look at Medtronic’s proven design and engineer something they can build at scale relatively quickly that offers the same or similar performance characteristics.
Medtronic says the design is particularly well-suited for “inventors, startups, and academic institutions” looking to spin up production in short order and create their own adapted designs.
“We are sharing the design specifications for the [PB 560] to enable participants across industries to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing to help doctors and patients dealing with COVID-19,” said John Jordan, External Communications Director at the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group at Medtronic.
He pointed out that while Medtronic produces other, more complex ventilator hardware, including the PB 980 and PB 840, these require “more than 1,500 components” that Medtronic sources from a variety of specialized producers, and rely on “a skilled and specialized workforce” and “an interconnected global supply chain.” While those things remain true even for the PB 560 to some extent, its smaller, simplified design makes it the best candidate for companies newer to the field looking to pivot to ventilator manufacturing with limited or no prior experience.
It’s worth noting that Medtronic isn’t open-sourcing the PB 560’s design exactly: it’s issuing a special “permissive license” specifically for the purposes of addressing this global coronavirus pandemic, and its term ends either when the World Health Organization’s official Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is declared over, or on October 1, 2024, whichever comes first.
Still, it’s a sign of the extent and seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis that for-profit corporations like Medtronic would even consider doing something like making free for broad public use a code technology they’ve developed, even if only for a fixed time frame.
Any startup or hardware maker interested in checking out the plans for the PB 560 and potentially using them to build their own equipment can register here to agree to the license and get access to the files.