Early on in Project V, as the scope of ventilator manufacturing increased from a low multiple of current production to a scale-up by a full order of magnitude, we began looking to diversify our Houston footprint. We did this for three reasons:
- We needed more expert labor to help us assemble test systems
- We needed more square footage, both for assembly and for managing inventory
- We needed multiple alternative offices in play, in case any one location experienced a COVID-19 outbreak and we had to close it down. Thankfully, that never happened, but we had to be prepared with alternatives to ensure Project V would not bottleneck.
One of the first partners we approached was Oasis Testing, a Magnolia, TX-based designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries. Historically, their bread-and-butter is high-pressure hydraulics and pneumatics systems and piping for oil and gas. Velentium’s Solutions division, which also focuses on the energy industry, has worked with Oasis on various projects over the past five years, always with great results.
To our knowledge, Oasis had never previously worked in the medical device field, but they know pneumatic systems and piping, and a lot of the test stands required for ventilator testing are mechanically analogous, once you layer on intelligent data acquisition and analysis on top. The biggest difference is the pressure.
Here’s an illustration: while setting up a test stand at the factory in Kokomo, one of our engineers was about to open up a panel when as Oasis engineer stopped him abruptly.
“Is there power to that panel?”
“Then it’s pressurized!”
“It’s okay,” our engineer reminded him. “It’s at ‘lung pressure’.”
A powered panel with 60,000 PSI behind it can do serious damage – you wouldn’t want to open that up without depressurizing it first. Our systems were operating at the opposite end of the pressure spectrum – in the most extreme example, measuring less than 1/100th of a PSI. Behind the panel our engineer was about to open was the pressure of a human breath.
Oasis was excited to help us out, not simply because of the downturn in oil & gas opportunities meant they had availability, but because it meant getting to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. And they were a delight to work with. They put VP of Engineering Demetri White on the project, whose expertise, unflagging energy, and solutions-oriented spirit helped make the impossible happen.
“I still remember Dan's phone call on Sunday, 3/22, because I was in the middle of putting together my 3-year old's bike,” Demetri recalls. “Dan asked, ‘Do you think you could build a test system that operates at low pressure, say 1/100th of a psi?’ I said that I thought it was possible – pressure is pressure. He then explained that this was for the COVID-19 rapid response project, and he wanted Oasis to assist in building verification test stands for ventilator components. He did not have to convince me any further, a project to help the country and people in need, I was in!”
In our conversations Demetri would say things like, “Whatever it takes,” “No problem,” and “Give us more!” When told we needed to schedule a 9pm call to discuss next steps, his response was “Let’s get it done.” Velentium Senior Automation Engineer Matt Kuss, on-site at Oasis for much of Project V, recalls many mornings seeing Demetri head home as the sun was coming up, only to return to the office a few hours later.
Meanwhile, as the project schedule kept getting moved up to beat rising infection curves, we had to keep calling Demetri with hard news: “We need it sooner.” Demetri’s team at Oasis stepped up and made it happen, every time. They never said “no,” never said “can’t,” but always found a way to get it done.
“We faced several challenges that created some long days and nights, but we were motivated by one simple fact - we were saving lives!” Demetri explained. “The first hurdle was getting an idea of what these test stations needed to do. Dan and I had several phone calls and FaceTimes to walk through the systems. Deciphering pictures, videos, and documentation was the next step. Velentium provided a collaborative platform and we went to work. Design and system function was critical, but in that first week, we needed items being manufactured and assembled so it could be shipped. As the timeline kept changing – mostly shortening – we started finding ways to build these systems faster and more efficiently.”
Oasis had the first units out the door within a week of coming onboard. And they kept asking for more.
So we gave them more. Over time, Oasis ended up helping with 13 different test stand types (out of 21 total). There was not a need for high volumes of each type, so along with our on-site engineers they kept learning how to build new designs so they could continue supporting the project, producing in all 44 of the 141 test stands. Said Velentium Senior Engineer Nathan Smith, “my experience with Oasis is that they took everything we gave them and made it better. The panels they built were professionally laid out and looked great.”
In addition, Oasis managed procurement and inventory for certain stand types, which was a huge help to our purchasing team. Once they had all the parts onsite, the system would be promptly assembled and in most cases was ready to test within a few hours. Here’s Demetri again:
“We worked with several of our suppliers that answered the call just as we did. Ameritex out of Willis, TX, supported the cause, and they too never said no or can't, they just made it happen. Velentium provided us with engineering support and drivers to get us parts as we needed, which allowed us to stay focused on assembling systems for shipment. Velentium even provided lunch and dinner throughout the course of our engagement, and we would typically eat in shifts so that systems were being assembled continuously.
Dan then called me, shortly after our first units were set to ship, saying he would like some Oasis support up in Kokomo. This was probably the toughest decision: who goes? To say that it was concerning for anyone to travel at this point in time was an understatement. I had two employees willing to volunteer, Jimmie Moore IV and Mitch McManus. Mitch departed with a one-way ticket the day after Dan called. Mitch helped provide insight and knowledge to the team in Kokomo, but that left us short one person in a seven-employee company. So, we ramped up manpower, calling on neighbors and family to work late in the night to build and qualify these systems before shipping to Kokomo. The Oasis team put our heads down and worked, it was truly a collaborative effort and a memory in my career that I will never forget! This project provided a great moment to reflect and be so proud of the employees that work at Oasis.”
It was a genuine pleasure to work with Oasis Testing on Project V. We look forward to our next collaboration with these #VentilatorHeroes.