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COVID & O2: Manufacturers face significant challenges

COVID & O2: Manufacturers face significant challenges ‘Hard-won parts are sitting for weeks and months at ports and on docks’

HassettYARMOUTH, Maine – There was a huge government push to help manufacturers ramp up production of ventilators at the start of the pandemic, but that hasn’t been the case for oxygen concentrators, even as they have become increasingly in demand.

Major manufacturers of oxygen concentrators say they’re ramping up production as best as they can. Ball Ground, Ga.-based CAIRE has added shifts at its manufacturing facilities and boosted its staff by 30%, helping the company to double its output during the pandemic.

“Our output has more than doubled, but the significant demand for oxygen concentrators, primarily for stationary oxygen concentrators, is still there,” said Barry Hassett, vice president of global marketing for the company. “It’s a challenge for everybody.”

Eighty six percent of providers who responded to a recent HME Newspoll say they’re running low on oxygen concentrators, with 71% reporting wait times of more than six weeks for orders from manufacturers.

Biola OkunolaThe challenges that manufacturers and their down-stream suppliers face in ramping up production are significant, even a year-plus into the pandemic. Challenges have included labor shortages due to COVID-19, facility shutdowns due to not being deemed essential, and lack of raw materials due to exponential demand across competing industries. The latest: delays at ports, says Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare.

“With a lot of creativity, determination and extraordinary costs, some manufacturers were able to work through and create a new semblance of normal, delivering higher than historical output of concentrators, (but) just as this recently established cadence of procuring parts approached normal, excruciating delays at ports have become rampant,” said Biola Okunola, a product director at the company. “To build and ship a concentrator, manufacturers require every part to be delivered on time from their suppliers. Hard-won parts are sitting for weeks and months at ports and on docks, just waiting to be unloaded and transported.”

Manufacturers like Cambridge, Mass.-based Philips are trying to work closely with U.S. and global market regulators to minimize supply chair disruptions, and they’re taking actions like dividing orders for respiratory equipment into batches and delivering them in phases, so it can serve multiple countries and regions in need.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, Philips has made significant investments to increase the supply of the respiratory products that are in the highest demand,” said Eric Pauls, business sales leader, Sleep and Respiratory Care, North America. “While this has led to an improved supply of ventilators and oxygen concentrators, demand for oxygen concentrators from the second wave of COVID-19 has outpaced the increased supply from many manufacturers, including Philips. We believe this scarce medical equipment should be made available across the world using a fair and ethical approach to allocate supply to acute patient demands based on data, such as the COVID-19 statistics per country or region and the available critical care capacity.”

Despite continuous challenges, manufacturers hope production, like our lives in general, will “return to normal as the year progresses,” Okunola says.

“These solutions come at extraordinary costs, but the alternative of not producing oxygen concentrators is not an option,” he said.


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