by Emily Miller, Austin Stake Communication Director
AUSTIN, Texas — After working around the clock for four weeks, the Austin P51 ventilator was designed by SISU to create a low-cost, high-quality emergency ventilator as quickly as possible in response to COVID-19 demands.
On March 15, patients in hospital corridors in Italy were reportedly dying for lack of space in intensive care units. Seeing an urgent need, a nonprofit company in Austin contracted the Austin-area robotics engineering firm, SISU, to help alleviate the ventilator shortage resulting from the pandemic.
Many of SISU’s employees are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The company specializes in creative, innovative solutions to challenging engineering problems. The SISU design team collaborated with more than 20 pulmonologists, respiratory therapists and other doctors and nurses to ensure that their design would meet COVID patients’ needs. By April 1, just 16 days after the inception of the project, a ventilator prototype was ready for testing and 100 units had been built.
Isaac Jones, a member of the Austin Stake and mechanical engineer for SISU, acknowledged that the team “put in really long hours” on the project and that it was made possible due to their suppliers.
Normally it takes four to six weeks to get custom parts. SISU’s suppliers moved ventilator part orders to the front line for a two-day turnaround. “It was awesome to see people willing to help out and do what they could to help those who are suffering from COVID,” Jones said.
Steven Lutz, a member of the Round Rock East Stake and the SISU machine shop supervisor, admitted, “It’s definitely been a sacrifice — a lot of hours in the office.” He said it is inspiring to see how other businesses in the community “have jumped on board to help.” A project of this scale would typically have taken months to complete, but only took a few weeks.
The Austin P51 ventilator is made from industrial components and has many features and settings that expensive ventilators have, but at a fraction of the cost. Some hospital units cost up to $60,000 each whereas the Austin P51 has an anticipated cost of $1,500 per unit.
The local nonprofit company that commissioned and funded the project had the goal to “lose money and save lives.” The Austin P51 has already passed the first round of the U.S. Army’s xTech COVID-19 Ventilator Challenge competition. Once FDA approval under Emergency Use Authorization is received, thousands of ventilators can be produced and distributed to COVID-19 hot spots. SISU’s project manager, Jason Orr, anticipates FDA approval within the week.
Eighty years ago, the world was faced with a different global threat. World War II was well underway, and the British Royal Air Force needed fighter planes. The British Purchasing Commission reached out to North American Aviation, and the American aerospace manufacturer had a prototype of the P-51 Mustang ready in just 102 days, an uncommonly short development period for a fighter aircraft.
Like its namesake, the Austin P51 ventilator was developed in record time to help meet an urgent global need. The project is a testament to human innovation, generosity, dedication and collaboration in the face of a worldwide crisis.