FARGO - Appareo Systems, a Fargo firm that just a month ago finished making 2,000 emergency ventilators for the state of North Dakota, recently finished making another 1,000 ventilators for the state of South Dakota.
Appareo normally makes electronics for the aviation and agriculture industries. But it was called upon in late March to speedily build the basic ventilators as North Dakota prepared for potential widespread coronavirus infections that could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases that would overwhelm the health care system and leave patients who needed help breathing without a machine.
Andres Nunez, the vice president of quality, supply chain and manufacturing, said Appareo workers are proud to be part of their efforts to make sure the hardest hit victims of the coronavirus have a better chance at survival.
“They just worked nonstop for many, many weeks. It’s a tremendous amount of pride in being able to participate in this effort,” Nunez said Friday, May 22. “I think it’s just been phenomenal. A once in a lifetime experience. It’s a tremendous honor.”
Appareo filled an order for 2,000 of the devices for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services in about a month, celebrating the completion of the last of the basic lifesaving devices at 10:07 p.m. April 25.
That order was followed by the South Dakota Department of Health order, which was completed about May 6, Nunez said.
The Appareo device, “Appareo Vita,” is based on an open-source design that came out of the Coventor project, which originated at the University of Minnesota and the Earl E. Bakken Medical Device Center.
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Unlike a sophisticated hospital ventilator; the device is more of a “one-armed robot” designed to fill the role of a human in an emergency situation where all ventilators are occupied and the last viable option for a respiratory patient is to have a health care worker manually squeeze a ventilation bag. The Appareo Vita would fill that role so that the health care worker can focus on other needs, if it came to that.
Dr. Stephen Richardson, a U of M cardiac anesthesiologist, invented the machine and did some live animal testing and applied to the federal Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization. The U of M sent Appareo its drawings and Appareo engineers created the first functioning prototype in three days.
Nunez said it takes about two and a half hours to build, test and package each device in an assembly line fashion. He said Appareo has seen further interest in the machines and is ready and able to ramp up production again if other areas need emergency ventilators.
“The supply chain is in place. It wouldn’t take too much effort to entertain another opportunity,” he said.
About 30 employees participated in the three-shift production, Marketing Director April Steffan said, with nearly 90 employees working the project from start to finish.