Executives involved in an effort to produce 2000 ventilators locally for the federal government say the coronavirus crisis underscores the importance of maintaining advanced manufacturing capabilities in Australia.
A consortium led by technology commercialisation firm Grey Innovation and involving manufacturers such as Bosch and ANCA secured $31.3 million in funding from the Morrison government in April to produce ventilators that will be added to the national stockpile.
ANCA typically makes computer controlled cutting machines used by companies including Apple and Samsung to manufacture their products. Its co-founder and managing director Pat Boland said the ventilators were highly complex medical devices and the technology required rigorous manufacturing and assembly standards to ensure viability for patients.
"The difficulty we face is that in emergency situations like this, which could be the virus, or the last case was the Second World War, when there is an emergency a whole manufacturing pipeline has to be created," he said. "Having skills in Australia gives options, if you don't have those skills you don't have the option, you don't control your own destiny."
The comments come as some federal government ministers push for the Australian economy to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on imported products in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Grey Innovation chief executive Dr Peter Meikle said the ventilators being produced are largely made up of machine components made locally because it is difficult to rely on the supply of components from overseas.
"In excess of 99 per cent of components in this device are being manufactured locally," he said. "Sourcing components from the global ventilator supply chain is difficult as many rely on common proponents or specialist components that everyone is trying to source at once."
He said the manufacturers were working around the clock to produce the machines. "It is like a war time effort," he said. "It is 16 hour days, six days a week, it is pretty intense."
The federal government has put in an initial order for 2000 ventilators which will go to a national stockpile to be deployed as needed with the first ventilators expected to roll off the production line in June.
"We are trying to birth a company that manufactures a complex device in a highly regulated framework in a very, very short period of time," Dr Meikle said.
"It's a startup in a matter of months, it highlights that if you want to do something with a minimum number of mistakes and maximise success you need to use people who have done this before."
Grey Innovation has a team of 60 people working on the ventilators including 25 highly skilled team members who have joined in the last three weeks who were otherwise unemployed.