Ventilator Maintenance and 60Hertz’s Contribution

What you may not know about ventilator maintenance & how 60Hertz is helping

Globally, there are at least 65 makes and models of ventilators. Add newcomers from established firms like Ford, GM and Dyson who pivoted instantly to re-purpose their supply chains and assembly lines to design and build ventilators. Add low-cost solutions pioneered by universities globally. It’s clear: An infantry with powerful intent has mobilized. It’s as if thousands have been waiting for such a calling.

In March, within the first weeks of COVID19 in the US, 60Hertz joined an ad-hoc consortium of engineers and developers and designers who wanted to help. We are a part of more than 3,400 contributors globally who are organizing to help.  The comfort of recent decades has precluded an experience of collective purpose. I’d say my generation hadn’t even heard the faint whispers of such purpose till now. What a gift to be part of the solution.

Repair manuals are essential to ventilators’ smooth operation. 60Hertz is contributing to COVID response by donating staff time to locate, categorize and facilitate free online access to these repair manuals. Our contributions are to iFixit, the international Wiki page that teaches people to repair what they own. iFixit has unleashed a campaign to find, source, organize and make freely accessible the massive library of ventilator repair manuals that global biomedical technicians will need. The Public Interest Research Group is pushing more manufacturers to make their manuals public and digital.

60Hertz’s Technical Researcher, Cristina Brower, notes that, “iFixit has stepped up to the plate during a time of great uncertainty. The team has worked collaboratively to collect various manuals of ventilators and other medical devices that could be useful during this time of need. As a volunteer I have been working on renaming files to help make manuals easily searchable for nurses and health care providers. In some cases nurses have needed to do maintenance repairs that may have been otherwise done by a technician, in this instance iFixit has been an invaluable resource. Every contribution counts in this fight against Covid-19.

60Hertz knows a thing or two about human maintainers. Our company has invested more than 250 hours of Human Centered Design in understanding the people responsible for remote power grids. We care deeply about maintainers who often work under great stress. We understand that many of our users may not have had the benefit of formal training on the life-or-death asset for which they are now responsible. We understand that maintenance staff are often unacknowledged and invisible. We strive to elevate, honor and hallow these workers. I believe our learnings apply to to those lay personnel called to repair ventilators in such a critical time.

Yes, 60Hertz’s staff dig electricity. We deeply understand microgrids. But our software is not rigidly exclusive to solar, batteries, turbines nor diesel generators. We enable our customers to maintain. By donating 60Hertz’s time and technical competence to the urgent call for ventilator repair, we are learning about how our brand of simple, step-by-step instructions; explanatory graphics within a text or prompt; the value of a networked community of repairers — could contribute to helping biomedical techs accomplish ventilator repair successfully.

As told to 60Minutes this week, Phil Kienle, GM’s Vice President of North American manufacturing flew to Seattle with three of his engineers. He asked his colleagues to take “a mindset of ‘what if your parents, your wife or one of your children had this COVID disease, and absolutely needed one of these ventilators, how far would you go to get this thing to production, how fast would you move?”

This is my question for 60Hertz too: even as a microgrid maintenance software company, we have a role to play. Nationally and in emerging markets, there will be no time for a learning curve for biomedical techs. There will be no time to search for critical spares or reorder consumable parts like O rings. There will be no time to pore over manuals in quiet. Rather, step-by-step troubleshooting, easy-start guides, and help forums will be imperative. Simply pointing stressed biomedical techs at a digital maintenance manual is certainly not enough. Stay tuned as we post learnings from our contributions to the iFixit platform, and explore how our role fighting COVID may expand.

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Piper Foster Wilder

Piper Foster Wilder is a Humboldt Fellow and is former Vice President of Amatis Controls. She is committed to creating meaningful work for all people and enabling a transition to renewable energy while economizing the diesel that some must use. She holds multiple awards for her entrepreneurship and social impact initiatives.