Partners create problem-solving ventilator splitter

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From left to right, the progression of the device from 3D printed version, to the machined plastic, to the final production. Courtesy Autocam Medical

Kentwood-based Autocam Medical partnered with researchers at the University of Michigan and a 3D printing company to develop a device that allows ventilators to safely treat two patients at once.

The partners tackled the global shortage of ventilators by developing VentMI from prototype to market in under a month.

The device is a new ventilator splitter that “overcomes a previously critical limitation for shared use of these devices.” Previous splitters could deliver only one pre-set pressure to patients, which was problematic because each COVID-19 patient requires a unique pressure tailored to their lung size and degree of disease, according to Autocam Medical. Excessive volume or pressure can cause lung trauma, thereby limiting the ability to share a ventilator, the company said.

Conceived a few weeks ago by Dr. Kyle VanKoevering, of the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at U-M’s Michigan Medicine and an associate faculty member in the school’s department of biomedical engineering, the new VentMI splitter has been designed, prototyped, tested and received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA.

Autocam Medical was mobilized to implement design for manufacturing (DFM) processes and started manufacturing the VentMI.

A new company formed by U-M inventors, MakeMedical LLC, licensed the technology from U-M and will provide VentMI at cost to other institutions. Autocam Medical is providing its manufacturing services at cost, as well.

The VentMI costs about one-hundredth of the price tag of a new ventilator, the partners said.

“We’re extremely grateful to have been asked to participate in the creation of this vital new product,” said John Kennedy, CEO of Autocam Medical. “We’re very proud of our team’s ability to go from prototype through manufacturing, engineering, to finished product in a matter of days to help meet this crucial need for the health care community.”

According to Owen Tien, CEO of Ann Arbor-based 3D printing company thingsmiths — a co-developer of VentMI and co-founder of MakeMedical — Autocam Medical displayed “world class” quality of work, speed and professionalism on the project.

“Their ability to move our components beyond 3D-printed prototypes has resulted in a product we can stand behind, and we are proud to partner with them,” Tien said.

Added Kennedy: “This is truly a great example of the power of innovation and collaboration between multiple partners in successfully tackling an important challenge under the most difficult circumstances presented by the pandemic.”

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