From day one, Festo has taken its social mandate to alleviate the corona crisis very seriously and has launched several focused support projects, such as the development of an emergency ventilator, support in the production of protective masks and the construction of an emergency hospital. Furthermore, the LifeTech business area offers an outstanding portfolio of components for laboratory automation and patient care devices. In addition to the medical sector, it is also important for Festo to keep the production of system-relevant areas stable on a global scale.
‘Like many other companies on 13 March, we sent our employees home to work from there until further notice,’ explained Dipl.-Ing. Dr Oliver Jung. ‘There were two questions that preoccupied us: Firstly, how can we as a systemically relevant component supplier for the beverage, food and pharmaceutical industries maintain our production processes? And secondly, how can we provide support?’ adds Jung.
Ventilation in an emergency
Within a few weeks, a prototype of a fully functional emergency ventilator that uses digital pneumatics was created by employees working from home in close cooperation with doctors. The emergency ventilator is technically fully developed, but is not yet approved for use as medical device. Special approval for emergencies would be possible, because the German Medical Devices Act allows for simplified approval of devices in the event of a disaster. These are then made available to the clinics by the authorities and are withdrawn from circulation once the disaster situation has ended. In the event of a second wave of infection, the product could be made ready for series production relatively quickly. Festo is also making the concept available to its customers via its national companies and, internationally, to the authorities who wish put it into series production.
Festo does not usually manufacture ventilation equipment, but supplies a range of components suitable for installation in ventilation equipment to certified manufacturers. The company has received numerous enquiries about these components from customers in Germany and abroad. Festo is thus one of the main suppliers of these components, which will also be provided to developing countries.
Continuous production of masks
Festo is also the supplier and technical consultant for the Carola project for the machine manufacturer Mikron, enabling local production of protective face masks in a mobile freight container. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these masks are still in short supply. This situation will continue or even become more acute over the next few weeks and months, because most face masks must currently be imported from abroad. Even with intact supply chains, delivery times amount to several months at present. On request, a production unit can be installed in a 20-foot sea freight container, where the raw material (polypropylene), delivered in rolls, is processed into complete protective face masks. The production capacity is around 50 masks per minute, corresponding to about two million masks per month. The biggest advantage is that this unit is mobile, can operate immediately on-site, is independent of imports and can be used over a long period in any crisis area. Festo is supplying electrical and pneumatic components and drives for this purpose, primarily from the core product range, which are available at any time.
Different test methods for the diagnosis of coronavirus
Global diagnostics companies and laboratories are not meeting the high demand for COVID-19 tests. In this phase, saliva-based PCR tests (virus tests) can help in enabling isolation procedures, reducing the basic reproduction number (R0) and slowing down the transmission of the virus. ‘We offer automation solutions for typical test workflows – for instance the handling of sample tubes or the pipetting and dosing of liquids. When developing the components, we focus on high throughput, precision and accuracy,’ says Jung. Antibody test devices are also becoming increasingly important. Festo supplies valves and pressure regulators, for example, for these compact mobile on-site laboratory devices in doctors’ practices, hospitals etc., so-called point-of-care devices (POC).
In addition to the medical sector, it is also important for Festo to keep the production of system-relevant areas stable on a global scale. Another supply chain task force is leaving no stone unturned in maintaining production and logistics throughout the global network, and distributing capacities as necessary. ‘Our products are used for example in filling technology in the beverage industry, for packaging at food manufacturers, and also in cleaning units for hospitals and care facilities and in packaging technology for medication in the pharmaceutical industry,’ reports Jung.