We are in deep doo-doo regarding the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for use in this Covid-19 crisis, mainly because our national leaders don’t seem to have a basic grasp on what it takes to design and manufacture a product, or to scale up production of an existing product. Case in point: it appears that medical facilities around the country are going to need many thousands more ventilators than they currently have, and that these devices will be needed in the coming WEEKS, not months or years. Donald Trump has apparently asked GM and Ford to start manufacturing ventilators. As an engineer who started and ran a company that manufactured and sold complex electronic gear, I can assure you the idea that GM, Ford and Tesla are going to magically go from manufacturing NO such devices, to making many thousands of safe, effective ones, is ludicrous. On the other hand, there are already companies right now with ventilator products and supply chains who would love help in producing more ventilators to address this crisis. We should be augmenting the productive capacity of these existing ventilator manufacturers with whatever they need to scale the numbers. More workers? Done. Help acquiring parts from the supply chain in greater quantity? Check. Testing, validation, quality control experts? No problem. The help could come from the aforementioned GM, Ford, Tesla, or others, but they should be providing assistance, not product.
So here’s the game plan: put ONE person at the federal level in charge of enhancing PPE supply. Identify the most promising existing equipment providers. Find out what is keeping them from dramatically increasing the supply of their product. Mobilize the resources needed to smash the barriers and get much, much more product out the door. This approach should yield increased product availability in weeks. Tasking big name companies to provide large quantities of a product they are not currently making would take at least several months, and probably more than a year.
The above strategy applies to ventilators, but could just as easily apply to any other PPE. Again, in a nutshell: Assign and empower a “PPE Manufacturing Czar” to organize and manage the effort. Identify the most promising existing manufacturers and work with them to remove the roadblocks and increase supply. Come on, let’s get this done!