China’s ventilator firms gain 20,000-plus overseas orders

By Ma Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/30 17:33:40

Exports via agencies are halted to ensure quality

Workers produce non-invasive ventilators at a medical technology company in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, Jan. 31, 2020. (Xinhua/Yang Qing)

Chinese firms making invasive ventilator have received more than 20,000 orders from abroad and more are expected to follow. More than 1,700 ventilators have been delivered.

As global coronavirus infections exceed 700,000 cases, dozens of countries have rushed to order life-saving ventilators in China. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China has 21 invasive ventilator manufacturers, of which eight have won the EU's mandatory conformity standard known as CE. Their production capacity accounts for 20 percent of the global total. 

"From assembling, commissioning, testing, to packaging for delivery, we dare not waste a minute," Li Kai, director of ventilator maker Beijing Aeonmed Co, told the Global Times, adding the company's production lines for making surgical beds have been converted to manufacture urgently needed ventilators.

Many countries now report severe shortage of ventilators. For example, there are about 160,000 ventilators available in the US but 740,000 could be needed in the worst-case scenario, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

To ensure quality, domestically made ventilators have to pass performance and safety tests by the regulators and get other markets' certifications before export — for example, the US Food and Drug Administration and the EU's CE certification.

As ventilators are in tight supply, some dealers may speculate by reselling at higher prices. In response, Beijing Aeonmed Co said on Saturday that it would end contracts with the dealers if they're found to be reselling to make a profit, whereas the price of the company's ventilators is fixed at the factory gate.

Cui Gang, clinical director of Beijing Siriusmed Medical Device, told the Global Times on Sunday the company has stopped taking orders from the trade agencies.

"Currently, we mainly get orders via existing foreign dealers and governments, and the manufacturing is done strictly in line with the time the orders are received," Cui said, noting that the export price has been unchanged since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

He said although some international flights have been canceled, sea shipping can guarantee exports and some countries have arranged chartered commercial or military flights to get the products.

Leapfrog improvement in performance

Currently, top global ventilator manufacturers include Germany's Dräger, Sweden's Getinge Group and Switzerland's Hamilton, while Chinese ventilators brands can cover all spectrum from low- to middle & high-end.

However, along with the  rapid progress made by China's manufacturing, the performance of Chinese made ventilators has made large advances, with leading domestic manufacturers like Mindray climbing to the second tier among all ventilator brands in the world, Cui said. 

There are no big differences among the models in terms of basic functions like ventilation modes and monitoring, apart from the fact that the machines are mainly used in ICUs and emergency rooms, according to industry insiders. However, top-of-the-line ventilators have more feature functions and smarter operating systems.

"The gap between domestic machines and global top ones is man-machine synchronization that helps patients breathe," Cui said. This is mainly due to key components like chips and sensors, of which 30-40 percent rely on imports from countries like Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy and the US, Cui said.

Formidable challenge for carmakers

While US President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to require Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and the like to make ventilators, and some European countries have deployed wartime strategies to order defense companies to produce ventilators, industry insiders question the feasibility of the moves.

Cui said that producing ventilators requires a complete industrial chain and automakers themselves are unlikely to turn out ventilators in a short time.

"It takes at least two years to produce a ventilator from scratch as it contains many processes including design, component supply, research and development, machine testing and getting approval," he said.

Meanwhile, it is hard to convert car factories into medical equipment production gear, according to industry insiders. "We're curious how the cooperation between automakers and medical firms will be carried out in the US, but it's taken us about 20 years to get here [in the industry]," said Li, the Aeonmed director.

Also, all ventilator makers in the world face severe shortages of components, as the epidemic has delayed factory resumption while many overseas facilities were shut down amid the pandemic.

"As market demand has surged a dozen-fold, we face insufficient supply of even basic raw materials like metal plates, let alone key components that need to be imported," Cui said. He said foreign ventilator makers also face dire short supplies because other countries' production capacity for basic raw materials can't compete with China's.

Newspaper headline: Orders pour in for ventilators


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