One of the world’s largest makers of ventilators, Drägerwerk, has warned that global demand for the machines that help severely ill coronavirus patients to breathe will outstrip supply, despite being on course to quadruple production this year.
Stefan Dräger, chief executive of the group, said the situation was especially worrying in the US. “The largest part of production capacity for ventilators is in Europe, while the biggest problem appears to be in the US. That is something that concerns me,” he told the FT in an interview.
Mr Dräger also warned that “delivery of new devices alone cannot solve the problem fast enough”.
Ventilators blow oxygen into the lungs of patients suffering from severe pulmonary stress and are essential for saving the lives of the sickest Covid-19 patients. In recent weeks, countries around the world have been scrambling to build and buy as many of them as possible, which has also sparked a surge in investor interest. Drägerwerk had sales of €2.9bn last year and since March 12, its share price has risen 95 per cent.
The German government placed an order for 10,000 ventilators from Drägerwerk this month, but the group expects to ship at least the same number of devices to other countries. “The [German] federal health minister acted especially quickly and decisively and immediately ordered 10,000 devices. Deliveries will be stretched across the whole year,” Mr Dräger said.
Some governments — including the UK and the US — have urged car companies and other non-specialists to build ventilators from scratch. Such initiatives, Mr Dräger suggested, were of limited use: “There is probably no one who has more experience when it comes to inventing and producing ventilators than us,” he said. “If others are now trying to do this as well, I welcome that. But I am sceptical.”
He also warned that production could only be scaled up so far: “We are . . . receiving numerous offers to support our supply chain . . . But there is a limit to how much you can accelerate. You cannot have a baby in one month by impregnating nine women. That is mission impossible.”
“We source different parts that we need for production from suppliers around the world. A lot comes from Europe but also from the US, Asia, Australia and New Zealand,” Mr Dräger said. “These supply chains must not be interrupted under any circumstances. If they do, the whole world has a problem.”
Drägerwerk is one of the world’s biggest producers alongside Sweden’s Getinge and Hamilton Medical of Switzerland.
Hamilton is doubling its output to around 500 ventilators a week and is looking at ways to simplify its machines to speed up production.
Its chief executive Jens Hallek also noted that supplies of components may become a problem as manufacturing scales up. “In combination with our increased output, I think sooner or later it’s very likely we run into supply issues,” he said.
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