PeopleHeartbeat ArchiveIn the thick of it

“As proud as a peacock”

30. November 2022

Development capacity and high speed were crucial when a team made up of Rheinmetall folks from Berlin, Ústí, and Neuss wondered whether it would be possible to develop a ventilator for intensive care patients with items to hand.

It just goes to show that actuators from Pierburg can be used in applications no one ever thought of before: the centerpiece of the ventilator is a drive that’s also used for exhaust gas recycling in trucks, for example.

Spring 2020 … the first coronavirus lockdown. People everywhere were genuinely frightened, worried that our healthcare system wouldn’t be a match for the grave challenges ahead. Shocking images from around the world on TV did little to allay these fears. Would there be enough intensive care beds in our hospitals? Were they adequately equipped to cope with a potential flood of incoming patients in urgent need of emergency care? Facing up to this situation, Rheinmetall rose to the occasion, drawing on its international contacts and logistics chains to procure desperately needed protective equipment for government agencies. Today, it continues to supply the federal authorities in Germany with FFP-2 respiratory masks and other personal protective equipment. But that wasn’t enough for Rheinmetall’s automotive development and prototype specialists, who also saw the worrisome images on TV. They secretly began to wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to use existing technology to alleviate the potential looming emergency on the spot.

In this atmosphere of general anxiety, all it took was a medical article on simple ventilators published by the University of Göttingen to spark the idea. A team made up of staff members from three different Rheinmetall locations immediately set to work developing a simple ventilator consisting of components to hand. But there was a further difficulty: How to complete the task in a way that adhered to social distancing and hygiene rules made necessary by the pandemic while still working at top speed.

Deep inside, everyone involved in the effort knew from the start that whatever solution they might come up with wouldn’t receive immediate official approval, nor would they simply be able to catch up with companies with decades of specialized experience in respiratory technology. But necessity is the mother of invention. And when Dr. Andreas Müller sounded the starting gun, the team assembled for the task set straight to work. Looking back, this joint effort goes to show just how resourceful humans can be in an emergency and how quickly new ways and means can be found that previously would have been considered unthinkable. This is also true of this article, which summarizes the team’s swift action while respecting the corona restrictions. Even if its use in an actual medical context doubtless lies far in the future, the team in Berlin grouped around Siegfried Güntner wasn’t “operating” intuitively.

Before embarking on the project, they sought expert advice , including from hospital physicians and first aid trainers. In addition, based on their respective areas of expertise, the colleagues taking part in the project were all able to make their own individual contribution. Once the necessary components, including the control unit, had been collected, the prototype team led by Akifhan Yurt got to work assembling the device. Incidentally, the centerpiece of the new device is an adjustable servomotor developed inhouse in Hartha. Understandably, Güntner was as proud as a peacock once the device had been successfully assembled (though that’s not quite how they put it in Berlin!). Even though it will probably never be used in real life, the device goes to show what can be achieved through teamwork and the iron will to succeed. Just realizing this was a huge success in itself. Their joint effort won the Berliners acclaim throughout the entire Group. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention!

(Article originally published 24 March 2021)

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