How Tesla Engineers Are Using Model 3 Parts to Build Ventilators

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Two weeks after an Elon Musk ventilator snafu that saw Tesla ship out about 1,000 B-PAP machines—which do not include the necessary ventilation tubes that the life-saving breathing machines require—the luxury car manufacturer has gone back to the drawing board.

Now, Tesla is giving us a glimpse into its process. In a new video (seen above), company engineers break down how they’re repurposing Tesla parts to build ventilators for COVID-19 (coronavirus) patients—something that Ford and General Motors have also been doing, thanks to the stockpiles of parts that auto manufacturers keep on hand to maintain a buzzing assembly line.

“We’ve been working on developing our own ventilator design, specifically one that’s heavily based on Tesla car parts,” Joe Mardall, engineering director at Tesla, said in the video. “We want to use parts that we know really well, we know the reliability of, and we can go really fast and they’re available in volume.”

The engineers showed off their initial prototype, which begins with a mixing chamber, a device that converges several gases at different temperatures in a Tesla car. Here, it’s used to mix hospital-grade air, along with oxygen, before it passes through a number of pressure sensors and a filter. The exhaled air travels back through another set up tubes and sensors.

In a pretty cool twist, the Tesla Model 3 infotainment system actually powers the completed ventilator model. The console display is even reimagined as a touchscreen monitor. On it, there are graphs displaying the air’s pressure, flow, and volume into a patient’s lungs. If there’s an air constriction, you can actually see a kink in the graph—it’s a well thought-out user interface.

The engineers have also repurposed Model 3 controllers to control the air in three different ways: 1) pressure only, 2) volume only, and 3) pressure-regulated volume. These can provide loads of flexibility depending on an individual patient’s needs.

An oxygen tank even provides the basis for a backup system. Along with a backup battery and an air compressor, the system gives health care providers another 20 to 40 minutes to move a patient to another ventilator if something goes awry with the original machine.

Although Tesla’s work is far from over, this is a promising step toward rectifying the world’s massive ventilator shortage.