In the fight against the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes, many automakers are stepping in to produce ventilators, respirators, and other mission-critical supplies. That's not too surprising; automakers have been called into fights of global importance before. But there's also positive news from a more unexpected place: Formula One teams are lining up to help produce necessary equipment.
The effort, known as "Project Pitlane," includes Haas, McLaren, Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull, Renault, and Williams. The teams are working to rapidly produce ventilators, which are machines that help patients with failing lungs continue to get oxygen. Because COVID-19 substantially weakens the lungs and can clear a path for deadly pneumonia, ventilators are a last-resort option to keep patients in critical condition alive. World ventilator usage is projected to eclipse supply, with one company suggesting that there was 10 times more demand than available units. MIT, Ford, GM, Dyson, and dozens of firms worldwide are trying to fix that.
Formula One teams aren't known for mass production or med-tech resources, so it may come as a surprise to see them stepping in. But the rapid prototyping, quick design process, and flexible production capabilities of teams give them the ability to deploy solutions faster than conventional manufacturers.
The best example of that comes from Mercedes-AMG, which worked with University College in the United Kingdom to develop an easy-to-produce continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. CPAPs function as an in-between option between unassisted breathing through an oxygen max and a full ventilator, forcing air into the lungs using positive pressure. While they cannot replace ventilators in all cases, using them for milder cases can take some of the pressure off the ventilator supply.
The design was adapted and re-engineered from an existing CPAP in less than 100 hours with Mercedes and the other teams capable of producing up to 1000 per day. The seven teams are also part of Ventilator Challenge UK, a consortium dedicated to ventilator production and availability that includes companies like Airbus, Ford, Rolls-Royce, and BAE Systems.
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