Exploring the key factors for successful and rapid innovation and creation of the Covid-19 Pandemic emergency ventilator at Aalborg University – from idea to product in 3 weeks

Anne Bisgaard Pors
Aalborg University

Morten Dahlgaard
Aalborg University

In just 3 weeks, the respiratory and critical care group (rcare) from Aalborg University, led by Professor Stephen Rees, developed an emergency ventilator, build from standard industrial parts and made available for all to build as open source. The Covid-19 pandemic, and contact to a collaborator in an English hospital, sparked the idea of building an emergency ventilator from commonly available parts. The incentive were simple; to prevent deaths. When the Danish society closed down, the team received permission to continue working in his lab. The reason was that they believed they could build a lifesaving emergency ventilator in just a few weeks. No one knew if it were going to work, but flexibility and support for the team were the first step towards a lifesaving invention. The first lesson learned is that flexibility, individual assessment, and management support are necessary factors for launching successful, challenged based inventions during a crisis.
The process of developing the emergency ventilator called for a team of different professional and academic competencies and includes experts in respiratory physiology, mechanical ventilation, and in software and hardware design and construction. A core value at AAU is the cross-disciplinary collaboration and research. This factor proved essential in producing the emergency ventilator; but many more competencies were needed to go from lab to product. Information, website, legal documents for open source, approval from healthcare authorities and industry-collaboration are just some. To make it real, the rcare team needed support from- and collaboration with many different professional competencies from industry, health and academia.
This article will explore the university-industry collaboration, collaborator engagements and support structures that made the invention of the lifesaving open source AAU emergency ventilator possible in such short time. Exploring and identifying crucial and essential factors enabling the success. Inventiveness and hard work for 3 weeks are key factors, but other, essential factors in both support structures and industry collaboration made the ingenious idea reality. The supportive factors fall in three identified categories; organizational structures, industry collaboration and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
If we can identify key factors in collaboration, support structures and other areas, we can replicate the generic mechanisms and establish an incentive and supportive structure that both foster and realise inventions. The Covid-19 global pandemic as well as the climate crisis show that we need, as a university, to establish a well-functional, smooth, flexible, and incentive structure that support the challenge based research and industry-collaboration.