Houston company partners with General Motors, others to boost country’s ventilator supply
Houston-based Velentium played a key role in mobilizing thousands of ventilators in the United States at a time when the pandemic and the uncertainty around it was surmounting around the country.
The medical technology company primarily worked in code, software, and cloud-based programs up until March.
"Then we had this opportunity come up in COVID that changed everything for us," says CEO Dan Purvis.
On March 14, an article for Forbes referenced one of Velentium's long-time clients Ventec Life Systems, a manufacturer of ventilators based in Washington. In the article, their client said they could increase production of their much-needed ventilators five-fold if they only had the right resources and partners. Purvis quickly decided that he and his team at Velentium would be one of them.
Velentium first aimed to help the small factory double or triple their production.
"When we first joined the process we were just going to our client, which was a relatively young start up firm, to try to help them go from 120 to 250 [units]," Purvis says.
But then General Motors showed up. And the scale changed dramatically.
The automotive behemoth launched Project V, which would marry it's manufacturing prowess with the technical expertise of the technology and engineering companies to mass produce Ventec's VOCSN ventilator systems. By March 25, operations launched at GM's Kokomo, Indiana, powerhouse plant where they were to produce 10,000 ventilators per month in just about eight week's time.
Velentium was charged with creating 141 automated test stands to verify that every one of Project V's 10,000 units were up to FDA standards. The stands featured 27 unique test systems that monitored 14 critical subcomponents, like air flow in metering valves and oxygen blends, and ultimately approved a ventilator for use through two final tests.
"It's one thing to build [ventilators]," Purvis says. "You need to build them safely, accurately, and in a repeatable way that is going to help people. And that's what our test systems insured."
And though Velentium had created many of these systems before, they had never done so at this scale or speed. Success required around-the-clock work from the then-60-person firm and new risks, that today Purvis says were worth taking.
"I was like, 'If we really want this to work we have to jump on this like nobody's business,'" Purvis recalls. "We bought $2 million worth of parts for test systems essentially at risk. We had not gotten our negotiation with General Motors done yet. But there was no way I could wait an extra week if I had eight weeks to do it. It was kind of terrifying, but it was the right thing to do. It totally aligned with our culture of saving lives."
By September 1, Project V delivered its first order of 30,000 ventilators to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just 154 days after launching.
Today, Velentium maintains a few team members at the Kokomo facility who run sustaining engineering. Throughout the project, Velentium added 60 team members to their staff and doubled down on manufacturing capabilities. They plan to double their production space again as they continue to place more emphasis on their manufacturing arm, which Purvis says opens up new opportunities for the firm that he hopes only continues to grow.
"One of the big goals for me as a strategic leader at the company was to make sure that pre-Project V to post-Project V the transformation that happened to our company through that period would not regress to where we were before," he says. "We had so much impact and so much growth through that time I didn't ever want to change."
He adds: "We asked the question over and over again during the first few weeks of the pandemic in March: Why not us? If I will continue to ask the question…we can accomplish major things."