Bosch engineers rise to the challenge of testing life-saving ventilators

The NOTUS Emergency Invasive Ventilator Program involved delivering 2000 emergency invasive ventilators to the Federal Government.

A collaborative manufacturing effort to deliver the first Australian-made medical ventilators to COVID-19 patients during the pandemic saw Bosch engineers use their expertise in inline production testing to build critical testing equipment within record time.

The project, led by Grey Innovation and supported by the Australian Government, Victorian Government and the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), involved delivering 2000 emergency invasive ventilators to the Federal Government as part of Australia’s response to the pandemic.

Bosch was one of the first companies selected by Grey Innovation, along with over 30 Australian manufacturers, to join the consortium – termed NOTUS Emergency Invasive Ventilator Program – to build the ventilators based on available design blueprints from Smiths Medical, a global medical device company.

Bosch’s manufacturing division, Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions (BAMS) undertook the task to build 60 test boxes to test each sub-assembly of the ventilator to facilitate production within the limited timeframe.

Bosch Test Engineer, Neng Kim says while the BAMS engineering team has extensive experience in providing end-to-end inline production testing for Bosch’s in-house automotive parts manufacturing as well as other manufacturers, the NOTUS project was challenging in many ways.

“The initial timeframe for Bosch to deliver the test boxes was set out at six weeks. Meanwhile, due to international shipping restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 lockdowns, it was becoming increasingly difficult to source the parts and components from outside Australia,” says Kim. “This meant the team had to re-engineer the test boxes to use locally available components to achieve the desired outcome. The BAMS team finally delivered all 60 test boxes to Grey Innovation within just ten weeks – an impressive timeframe given the amount of technical work involved.”

Louisa de Vries, Grey Innovation’s Engineering Supply Manager, says the entire process of validating the design, obtaining the necessary approvals from the Therapeutic Goods Association, conducting quality checks during manufacturing, and finally producing the ventilators requires years under normal circumstances.

Thanks to the collaboration with the Bosch engineering team and other project partners, Grey Innovation was able to deliver the first batch of ventilators to the Government less than four months after securing the contract.

“All of this would not have been possible without Bosch’s support and professionalism,” says de Vries. “There are not many companies in Australia that could stand up to a task as critical and as time-sensitive as this project. There was nothing too difficult for the team at Bosch. Even when we found some engineering gaps in the design drawings, the team pulled their resources and capabilities together and resolved this,” says de Vries.

Louisa de Vries, Grey Innovation’s Engineering Supply Manager, demonstrating one of the test boxes developed by the BAMS team.

According to de Vries, who has herself joined Grey Innovation after many years of engineering and research experience in the automotive industry, testing is a critical step in any manufacturing journey, but particularly critical to producing medical equipment.

“A ventilator is a very complex device that the patient relies on to be able to breathe. We had to test each sub-assembly to pick up any potential design or manufacturing flaws early on in the production process rather than waiting to troubleshoot once the whole ventilator was assembled.

“The test boxes developed by Bosch fully test the functionality of the ventilator as well as simulating a range of patients breathing, from a child to an adult, at various frequencies and volumes using precision calibrated equipment. Our device is also designed to allow for the patient to spontaneously take a breath, which made the testing process a lot more complex.”

Based at the Bosch facility in Clayton, Victoria, the team at Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions assists many manufacturers with production testing. Kim believes manufacturers should view production testing holistically, rather than as standalone functions.

“Testing needs to be viewed as a process and not as a series of stand-alone functions. Whenever a client asks us to help them test a product, our goal is always to provide a well-defined and complete solution to ensure that the product can perform the functions it is intended to do. At the end of the day, if a product is not tested properly during production, the brand name gets affected. No consumer wants to buy a product to find that it does not perform what it promises to do.”

Kim says delivering manufacturing testing services requires a clear understanding of the production process – something the Bosch team has been able to acquire after years of working with Bosch’s manufacturing division.

“Product testing can involve many different processes. From testing electronic devices to pneumatic devices, each product requires a different testing process. Our strength lies in having a wide range of expertise among the team, including mechanical, electronic and Programmable Logic Control (PLC) engineers, as well as being able to create different test setups depending on the product functions.

“Our group of engineers has been engaged with production testing and quality checks for Bosch’s in-house manufacturing for years. The experience has enabled us to gain a thorough understanding of inline production testing and to engage closely with the manufacturing process. That experience is now reflected in our engineering solutions services to our clients.”