How do you measure a breath?
That question is perhaps the closest thing to the distilled essence of ventilator test engineering. The dozen circuit boards, miniature valves, and intricate pathways that go into a ventilator all work towards one purpose: to simulate and assist the very human, highly variable, deceptively intricate act of taking a breath. And test engineering is all about measuring and qualifying that functionality, so at the heart of each Velentium test system must reside the ability to capture and characterize pressure and flow.
There’s no perfect instrument that does this. If there were, we’d have no need for custom-built test systems. Instead, Velentium had to work with a variety of vendors to fill Project V’s measurement needs. Some vendors offered very precise instruments, but at the cost of long lead times. Others might provide a robust collection of features, but would be overly complex for our need to build lean, fast machines. The supplier that ended up providing the vast majority of our flowmeters, flow controllers, and pressure controllers was Alicat Scientific, an instrumentation company and mass flow device manufacturer whose wide-ranging expertise turned them into one of our most involved partners.
At the core of what would end up being a need for hundreds of controllers and meters was Aniket Patil, an applications engineer who truly understands what it meant to deliver excellent customer service.
When you’re on the ground, in the plant, building ventilator systems like everyone’s mother’s life depends on it, it’s easy to get lost in the scrum. Days blend into one another, weekends are meaningless, and all you see is the goal: get this ventilator facility up and running. Removed from the structure of the outside world, you forget that everyone else who is able to work during the pandemic is likely working regular hours and may not share both the enthusiasm and the urgency of those of us in the thick of it. Aniket, however, was one of the outsiders who grasped not just the importance of Project V’s ambitious objective, but also the daily pains of our engineers, and he always made time to take late evening calls to help us troubleshoot a faulty system or get a replacement order shipped just before the last pickup of the day. In time, he came to know our systems almost as well as we did, and was able to suggest programming changes and configuration adjustments on the fly, reciting register values and flow equations from memory, all while working with stressed-out engineers on the other end of a shoddy phone connection.
"I had heard of Velentium in conversations in my company but hadn’t worked with them myself prior to Project V," Aniket recalls. "I vividly remember a day, early on, when we were rushing to get some devices out to Texas and it looked like they would be needing a little more time and wouldn't make the delivery window. That's when Dan Purvis and David Weng from Velentium floated the idea of flying someone out here to pick the devices up that very night. Right about that same time our VP of Sales, Ben Ramirez, also offered to fly these out to Texas himself. This flexibility and readiness to work for mutual success told me that Alicat Scientific and Velentium share the same heart as companies. I knew then that our partnership was going to be an exciting and enriching journey!"
"As with any large scale project, the availability of material and information is crucial," Aniket continued. "Sometimes the material that is needed to put together a large order is not available readily and sometimes the information required to configure a device properly isn’t either, and during a pandemic, you can't afford to be slowed down due to such factors. Open and efficient communication was crucial in rising up to this challenge and breaking down the barriers that we encountered every day."
Aniket and Alicat continue to support Project V to this day, helping us dial in PID settings and recommending new valve configurations to optimize our testing and improve reliability and throughput. In June, we were finally able to get him out to Kokomo for a visit, and he was thoroughly impressed with everything being done at the plant. So much so that he volunteered his next weekend to come out and help, on his own time!
Fortunately, we were able to run stably on our own and didn’t need to take him up on his very generous offer – but when people understand the importance of what we’re doing and offer world-class service like Aniket’s, the weight of what we’ve done and are continuing to do feels a little lighter.
Thanks, Aniket Patil and Alicat Scientific, for being #VentilatorHeroes.