The COVID-19 outbreak is raging throughout the world, with the number of confirmed cases globally having exceeded 3.66 million and the number of deaths at 250,000 as of May 7. Foreign demand for ventilators has increased by a factor of 5-10 times in comparison with the past. In response, ITRI and the industrial community have come together in an effort to develop a ventilator. The result has been the completion of a prototype in just 17 days. The ventilator was unveiled today during an online press conference, demonstrating Taiwan's success in using its scientific and technological capabilities to aid in countering the epidemic. This is also boosting opportunities for Taiwan industry in the high-end medical equipment sector, and is demonstrating the power of "Taiwan Helps."
Department of Industrial Technology Director-General Ta-Sheng Lo remarked that the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has been preparing for three stages in epidemic prevention since the outbreak occurred. The first stage was to prepare protective equipment, including masks and protective clothing. Taiwan created a "national face mask team," which is yielding daily output of 17 million masks, as well as a "national protective garments and textiles team," which is providing the PPE to ensure the health of medical personnel. The second stage has been to establish a capacity to detect the virus. Academic Sinica, the National Health Research Institutes, the Ministry of National Defense's Institute of Preventive Medicine, and other institutions have been working together to develop rapid testing technology. ITRI also in a short period unveiled a nucleic acid molecular detection system, which is able to, in just one hour, detect individuals who are still in the preliminary phase of infection, thus helping to prevent the spread of the outbreak. Now, the nation is entering the third stage, in which it is working to strengthen medical care capacities. In the face of the worldwide ventilator shortage, Taiwan has now developed its first ventilator prototype, highlighting its ability to produce high-end medical equipment on its own. This is enabling Taiwan to take advantage of its strengths and become a link in the global ventilator supply chain.
ITRI President Edwin Liu commented that in the past, Taiwan relied on imports for the ventilators needed in urgent and critical care. With the support of the MOEA, ITRI has been instrumental in creating Taiwan's first ventilator prototype in just 17 days, and this is significant on four fronts, he said, namely: the early deployment of epidemic prevention resources; boosting opportunities for Taiwan industry in the high-end medical equipment market; establishing an ability in Taiwan to calibrate and verify quality ventilators; and highlighting Taiwan's ability to assist the world in its ventilator needs, demonstrating the "Taiwan Helps" spirit.
At the end of March, U.S. ventilator giant Medtronic shared the basic design specifications of its PB 560 portable ventilator, following which ITRI coordinated resources needed to produce a ventilator, including mechanisms, electronic controls, firmware, software, and data system integration, and it successfully sourced more than 500 key components, which demonstrates the outstanding flexibility and strengths of Taiwan's supply chain.
ITRI Vice President and General Director of Biomedical Technology and Device Research Laboratories Chii-Wann Lin stated that since the beginning of the outbreak, ITRI has emphasized the integration of technologies from various disciplines. This has resulted in a series of technologies and applications, such as rapid virus screening, body temperature detection/monitoring, and home care management. ITRI has also been in the lead in responding to the demand for ventilators required in critical care. It leverages its abilities by integrating software and hardware teams, while inviting key industries to participate in various projects. Over the past five years, it has honed its experience in rapid trial production, which has proven crucial in developing Taiwan's first medical grade ventilator prototype.
According to Dr. Lin, ITRI has seized upon three factors to this end. The first key is software: The team successfully interpreted the software program and functions of the Medtronic prototype. The second key is system components: The team actively sought out components from the up-, mid-, and downstream industrial chain, including microprocessors, sensors, fan motors, blowers, and masks, and even is producing some items on its own via 3D printing. The third key is system validation: To domestically produce the key components of the ventilator is the first step. Then the prototype will need to pass software and hardware testing, calibration and validation.
ITRI hopes that these efforts can successfully transform an open source design into a real product. Trial production of the prototype yielding 10 ventilators is expected by the end of October for conformity certification. Meanwhile, ITRI expects to recruit even more manufacturers into the production process, and it has set a goal of producing 100 ventilators by the end of next June. ITRI has been demonstrating how technology R&D is protecting Taiwan, along with Taiwan's commitment to working side by side with the rest of the world in fighting the pandemic.