With COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. worsening this fall, it seems valuable to look back to March when a national crisis developed over a shortage of tens of thousands of ventilators.
On March 22, General Motors, Ventec Life Systems and Velentium, a small manufacturing and testing company in Houston, set an ambitious goal of producing 10,000 ventilators a month, up from the low hundreds.
What followed in late March and early April was described as “ordered chaos” to find 35,000 parts for 141 test systems and get them ready to test every component of the new ventilators at a GM plant in Indiana. A testing team of 47 engineers grew to 107 to meet an April 12 deadline.
A 15-minute film, “Project V,” recently released by Velentium tells the story:
There were 18-hour days working seven days a week over three weeks. Eventually 21 different types of test systems were developed. The testing area at the factory involved so many machines that it took up half the floor space.
Velentium partnered with 2448 Productions to record a bit of the ventilator testing history, partly to explain why the company’s workers disappeared into a black hole for weeks, as one worker said. The film records the thoughts of Velentium executives inspired by the company motto, “changing lives for a better world.”
One memorable hyperbolic description comes from a senior engineer who describes the hurried testing process: “It was like sprinting down a pier while are also trying to build the pier…in the fog..and there are piranhas in the water.”
For the people and their families involved, the film shows how engineers from a small company made a difference in the continuing pandemic, alongside the sacrifice of so many first responders, nurses, doctors and uncountable numbers of essential workers. It offers them a chance to tell the world they took a meaningful part in the fight against a deadly disease. Maybe it will challenge the rest of us to ask, “How am I part of the solution?”