Digi-Key teams up with University of Minnesota to try & end COVID-19 ventilator shortage

23 March 2020

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As a potential solution to the US COVID-19 ventilator shortage, electronic components distributor, Digi-Key is collaborating  with the University of Minnesota to create a plan to make parts for low-cost respirators – devices that could help save lives.

Grand Forks-based local reporter & multimedia journalist, Ken Chase tells the story:

"It's quite scary how many respirators could be needed," said Randall Restle, Vice President of Applications Engineering at Digi-Key, headquartered in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. "We're told that we could need tens of thousands of respirators. And so that is going to be a real challenge."

Doctors at the University of Minnesota (U of M) managed to design respirators, based on machines from the 1960s. This respirators' design needs parts that can be found in Digi-Key's stock in Thief River Falls.

"These are encoders, cables and connectors," Restle said. "What we're able to do is to get those things connected up so that someone can take the apparatus as designed by the University of Minnesota and just plug them together."

With the U of M's design, respirators can run on car motors or windshield wiper motor. The windshield wiper motor is less expensive than what other companies have listed as options to keep the ventilators running.

Ventilators usually cost between $3,000 and $13,000. This new design can be built for around $1,500.

"We hope by the end of the week that we can have hundreds. And we'd like to finish the design in order to have thousands or tens of thousands made next week," Restle said.

In order to get these ventilators to doctors, Digi-Key and the U of M will need federal approval. But this partnership may be one step closer to ending the shortage on ventilators. Governors from around the country, FEMA and the Vice-President's office are all interested in the project.


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