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Danby Products shifts its focus to making ventilators

The Guelph company has teamed up with others to form Ventilators For Canada and is now producing two different devices

They are now making ventilators, not fridges and freezers, at Guelph's Danby Products.

Danby has shifted focus to helping save lives in the COVID-19 crisis, retooling its production lines to now make full-service ventilators and a second device that allows ambulatory hand airbags to operate mechanically in an emergency situation.

Danby has partnered with four other companies in the venture, called Ventilators for Canadians.

“This is the crisis of the day. We have to do something,” said Danby CEO Jim Estill, who co-founded the group.

“My motto is ‘do the right thing’ and I’m an entrepreneur that is impatient. I don’t stand by and say ‘oh well,’ and just put my head in the sand. I need to do something.”

Pre-assembly of full ventilators will be rolling off the production line shortly for final assembly at a partner medical company and the device that allows hand ambulatory airbags work as a “hold-the-fort” emergency ventilator are already being made.

Joining Danby in Ventilators For Canadians are ABS Friction, Crystal Fountain and JMP Engineering, which are partnering with Baylis Medical, a Canadian-based medical device company.

“We called the group Ventilators for Canadians so obviously we would sell them to Canada first, but we need to get the orders in and in the end you’re saving the world,” Estill said.

He said he started putting together the idea about six weeks ago when the crisis hit and it became apparent ventilators were needed.

It took two weeks for Danby to start making devices with off-the-shelf parts, using a template for the full ventilators made public by another company rather than the delay that starting from ground zero would have caused.

“We’ve been producing our ambulatory bag one for a week,” Estill said. “The main ventilator will probably not be started for two weeks. We’re just gathering things right now.”

The ambulatory bag compressor (ABC), which uses a piston to compress the emergency hand ventilators often used in temporary situations. With the current ventilator shortage, the ABC device could help a patient until a full-service ventilator becomes available.

The full-service ventilator will be rolling off the production line soon.

Estill said they will be able to produce 400 to 500 of each product a week.

“We’ll likely ramp up from there,” he said.

Danby will be running two 10-hour shifts, seven days a week. A total of 144 employees.

The shop floor has been redesigned to not only allow for the new products to be built, but also to allow for social distancing for the workers.

No worker can work on the other shift.

“If we’re producing these, we cannot afford to have anyone get COVID,” Estill said, “because if we have someone get COVID, we have to shut down for a couple of weeks.”

He said the decision to stop manufacturing the company’s traditional products was made easier by the fact that nobody is buying those products right now.

“So I don’t want to produce other things to put on the shelf in the hopes that somebody buys them next year,” Estill said. “It’s a win-win. It helps me save jobs for my staff, but the biggest win in this is that we save lives, that’s the real juice.”