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Before the coronavirus, Bloom Energy was making fuel cells. Now it's rehabbing hospital equipment that will save lives.

With pressing need on the horizon, local company tackles the refurbishing of old ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients

When Gov. Gavin Newsom said that California hospitals will face a massive shortage of life-saving ventilators for seriously ill COVID-19 patients, the executives of the San Jose-based company Bloom Energy knew they had to do something to help.

Newsom made a call to action on March 16 to the state's CEOs to help find or manufacture equipment such as masks, gloves and respiratory ventilators to resupply hospitals that could run out of protective gear and vital equipment. He said the state could need at least 10,000 ventilators, which help critically ill patients to breathe, over the next three months.

Bloom, which produces fuel cells, decided it wasn't a stretch to repair and upgrade hundreds of older ventilators the state had purchased for prior pandemics, said Susan Brennan, the company's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The company immediately put together a "tiger team" with government officials and Bloom employees to figure out logistics. A company engineer downloaded a ventilator manual and taught employees how to build and service the ventilators overnight, she said.

Engineers immediately began testing the ventilators to understand how well they functioned and set up an assembly line in the Sunnyvale facility to service the equipment. The company rearranged its storage to make room for the assembly line. It is keeping its main production line for its fuel cell production and created a new refurbishment line for the ventilators, she said.

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"It's tight but effective, and we're keeping social distancing. It's tight, but it's 6-feet tight," she said.

The company made its first delivery of 24 repaired and upgraded ventilators this week. On Saturday, March 28, CEO KR Sridhar said the company had refurbished 80 ventilators on Friday and was prepared to ship another 120 on Saturday, he announced during a press conference in Sunnyvale with Gov. Newsom.

After Los Angeles received 170 ventilators from the federal stockpile that weren’t working, the state quickly had a truck deliver them to Bloom Energy for repair on Friday. The repaired ventialtors are due to be returned to Los Angeles on Monday, fully functional.

Sridhar said in future weeks the company would be able to ship 200 to 250 ventilators at a time.

"We will not be the bottleneck," he said, while urging anyone who has a ventilator to send it to Bloom for refurbishing.

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Bloom is one of two local companies committed to retooling for building ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said he would use the company's Fremont car plant to produce the life-saving equipment. This week, he delivered more than 1,200 purchased ventilators to the state, Newsom announced. Musk said in a tweet that he has been talking to leading manufacturers about supplies and engineering for repurposing the Tesla plant.

Bloom chose to refurbish rather than build machines because it will boost the state's supply quickly, while others are ramping up for production, said Brennan, who is a former vice president of manufacturing for Nissan, North America, and Ford Motor Company's director of the global manufacturing business office.

"We know we will be ahead of anybody who is building new," she said.

The biggest challenge to the new operation? Supplies.

"We started with 200 (ventilators) and we are only right now constrained by supplies. We are working with our external partners for incoming supplies," she said.

Brennan is optimistic the company can turn out many hundreds of ventilators in a short period of time.

"I have never seen this level of cooperation between people who don't know each other. It is as frictionless as a process that's difficult could be," she said.

Bloom is also using its manufacturing facility in Delaware to refurbish ventilators on the East Coast. The company started working on its first six machines for that state on Tuesday, she said.

The company is calling for other states and hospitals to locate and send in any timed out, expired or out-of-warranty ventilators. Once brought up to a standard for suitable use, the ventilators will be shipped back to the providers, which have the responsibility to validate and certify the devices, she said.

"We're not in this to make money. We're doing this because we saw a need," she said.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Before the coronavirus, Bloom Energy was making fuel cells. Now it's rehabbing hospital equipment that will save lives.

With pressing need on the horizon, local company tackles the refurbishing of old ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Mar 27, 2020, 6:42 pm
Updated: Sat, Mar 28, 2020, 9:48 pm

When Gov. Gavin Newsom said that California hospitals will face a massive shortage of life-saving ventilators for seriously ill COVID-19 patients, the executives of the San Jose-based company Bloom Energy knew they had to do something to help.

Newsom made a call to action on March 16 to the state's CEOs to help find or manufacture equipment such as masks, gloves and respiratory ventilators to resupply hospitals that could run out of protective gear and vital equipment. He said the state could need at least 10,000 ventilators, which help critically ill patients to breathe, over the next three months.

Bloom, which produces fuel cells, decided it wasn't a stretch to repair and upgrade hundreds of older ventilators the state had purchased for prior pandemics, said Susan Brennan, the company's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The company immediately put together a "tiger team" with government officials and Bloom employees to figure out logistics. A company engineer downloaded a ventilator manual and taught employees how to build and service the ventilators overnight, she said.

Engineers immediately began testing the ventilators to understand how well they functioned and set up an assembly line in the Sunnyvale facility to service the equipment. The company rearranged its storage to make room for the assembly line. It is keeping its main production line for its fuel cell production and created a new refurbishment line for the ventilators, she said.

"It's tight but effective, and we're keeping social distancing. It's tight, but it's 6-feet tight," she said.

The company made its first delivery of 24 repaired and upgraded ventilators this week. On Saturday, March 28, CEO KR Sridhar said the company had refurbished 80 ventilators on Friday and was prepared to ship another 120 on Saturday, he announced during a press conference in Sunnyvale with Gov. Newsom.

After Los Angeles received 170 ventilators from the federal stockpile that weren’t working, the state quickly had a truck deliver them to Bloom Energy for repair on Friday. The repaired ventialtors are due to be returned to Los Angeles on Monday, fully functional.

Sridhar said in future weeks the company would be able to ship 200 to 250 ventilators at a time.

"We will not be the bottleneck," he said, while urging anyone who has a ventilator to send it to Bloom for refurbishing.

Bloom is one of two local companies committed to retooling for building ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said he would use the company's Fremont car plant to produce the life-saving equipment. This week, he delivered more than 1,200 purchased ventilators to the state, Newsom announced. Musk said in a tweet that he has been talking to leading manufacturers about supplies and engineering for repurposing the Tesla plant.

Bloom chose to refurbish rather than build machines because it will boost the state's supply quickly, while others are ramping up for production, said Brennan, who is a former vice president of manufacturing for Nissan, North America, and Ford Motor Company's director of the global manufacturing business office.

"We know we will be ahead of anybody who is building new," she said.

The biggest challenge to the new operation? Supplies.

"We started with 200 (ventilators) and we are only right now constrained by supplies. We are working with our external partners for incoming supplies," she said.

Brennan is optimistic the company can turn out many hundreds of ventilators in a short period of time.

"I have never seen this level of cooperation between people who don't know each other. It is as frictionless as a process that's difficult could be," she said.

Bloom is also using its manufacturing facility in Delaware to refurbish ventilators on the East Coast. The company started working on its first six machines for that state on Tuesday, she said.

The company is calling for other states and hospitals to locate and send in any timed out, expired or out-of-warranty ventilators. Once brought up to a standard for suitable use, the ventilators will be shipped back to the providers, which have the responsibility to validate and certify the devices, she said.

"We're not in this to make money. We're doing this because we saw a need," she said.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Palo Alto Mom
Crescent Park
on Mar 27, 2020 at 9:16 pm
Palo Alto Mom, Crescent Park
on Mar 27, 2020 at 9:16 pm
17 people like this

Thank you Bloom Energy for your vision, flexibility, and quick action!


Joe
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2020 at 3:39 pm
Joe, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2020 at 3:39 pm
5 people like this

Yes .. a tip-o-the-hat to Bloom!

And .. Bloom stepped up without having to be hit on the head with the National Production Act.


Jayesh
Mountain View
on Mar 29, 2020 at 10:14 pm
Jayesh, Mountain View
on Mar 29, 2020 at 10:14 pm
4 people like this

A Big Thank You Bloom Energy. You guys rock!!!


Joe Meyers
Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2020 at 11:22 am
Joe Meyers, Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2020 at 11:22 am
Like this comment

This is yet another inspiring story of generosity. Thank you, Bloom Energy.


Geri Spieler
Midtown
on Mar 30, 2020 at 12:41 pm
Geri Spieler, Midtown
on Mar 30, 2020 at 12:41 pm
6 people like this

Good for you Bloom Energy. You stepped up to help in this much-needed process. Impressed and yet not surprised that you would answer the call.


Oldster
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2020 at 12:42 pm
Oldster, Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2020 at 12:42 pm
Like this comment

Curious how many of these "found" ventilators were from the old California State emergency supply sold and donated as surplus by Jerry Brown as detailed in an L. A. Times story a few days ago. And, what percentage of the federal stockpiles were not maintained or otherwise defective.


dontliveinCA
another community
on Mar 30, 2020 at 12:47 pm
dontliveinCA, another community
on Mar 30, 2020 at 12:47 pm
Like this comment

very impressive and inspiring!


Trump fired the national pandemic team
Evergreen Park
on Mar 30, 2020 at 1:06 pm
Trump fired the national pandemic team, Evergreen Park
on Mar 30, 2020 at 1:06 pm
Like this comment

> donated as surplus by Jerry Brown as detailed in an L. A. Times story a few days ago

From the referenced story, Brown donated gear TO HOSPITALS during the Bush Great Recession.


"But the ambitious effort, ... hit a wall: a brutal recession, a free fall in state revenues — and in 2011, the administration of a fiscally minded Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who came into office facing a $26-billion deficit.

... Much of the medical equipment — including ... was given to local hospitals and health agencies, former health officials said."


Not the best choice, in hindsight. A smaller version of many poor federal decisions that hurt today, like Trump disbanding the National Pandemic Team.


joanroberta
Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2020 at 2:06 pm
joanroberta, Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2020 at 2:06 pm
Like this comment

Great to see Bloom Energy helping those in dire need!


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