Cohoes firm develops low-cost respiratory ventilator

PVA says it could manufacture 100 a day for COVID-19 patients
PVA's prototype ventilator is shown.
PVA's prototype ventilator is shown.

COHOES — Tech manufacturing firm PVA announced this week that it has developed an emergency ventilator that could be delivered to hospitals starting in the next two weeks, pending FDA approval.

Hospitals worldwide are experiencing or anticipating a shortage of ventilators, life-critical devices that help patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms breathe. Bracing for an expected surge of hospitalizations, New York state is scrambling to secure more units. 

PVA Managing Director Frank Hart said that since his company already supplies equipment and manufacturing to medical companies worldwide, it was a natural transition to develop its own ventilator. 

“We do all our own metal fabrication and controls work, so it wasn’t something that was a significant departure from our core competency,” said Hart. 

Governor Cuomo’s office is helping PVA get emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, said Hart, who had a conference call with the Governor’s Office on Wednesday.

Ventilators involve complex software and hardware, but PVA said it took a team of a dozen employees from Friday to Monday to design a working prototype. The company has on-site medical professionals to advise it.

PVA, founded in 1992, provides high-tech processes such as semiconductor dispensing to the auto, defense and electronics industries. 

“Our customers are the largest manufacturers of products in the world, so they’re highly demanding,” said Hart. “We’ve done similar things for a recall of one of the first Ford Focus models, where we had to respond with a significant volume of equipment very quickly. I can’t say we’ve done it in a medical emergency before, but we definitely have the capabilities to ramp up and answer the call on high-level demand products.” 

Across the globe, demand for ventilators has skyrocketed. Many in use in the United States are manufactured abroad, and domestic producers like Medtronic and General Electric are struggling to ramp up production.

Car companies Tesla, GM and Ford have said they will help manufacture ventilators, but Hart said it could take months for that to happen. 

“There’s a significant shortage that needs to be bridged between now and then. We can have products delivered in under two weeks.” 

PVA hopes to produce 100 ventilators a day for New York, committing to a maximum price $8,000 each. Ventilators typically sell for anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000.

The secret to the low price point will be PVA’s reliance on in-house materials, manufacturing, and expertise rather than the typically long supply chains from established ventilator manufacturers.

Other Capital Region companies like fuel cell firm Plug Power in Latham and integrated systems manufacturer Coretech in Ballston have offered to help PVA with production of the emergency ventilators. 

Governor Cuomo has repeatedly expressed frustration at the inability to acquire more ventilators, calling on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to give New York access to units in the federal stockpile. 

“This is a critical and desperate need for ventilators,” he said Tuesday, adding that the state is experimenting with using one ventilator split between two patients. “We don’t have any other options. There’s no other way for us to get these ventilators. We’ve tried everything else.”

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