The Genesis of the GeVentor Ventilator

Runway’s fabrication lab in Ballarat has been playing a part in an exciting ventilator project in response to the COVID19 pandemic. 

Our team members, Nichola Sleight and Jo Robinson, interviewed Michael Poulton, CEO of Committee for Ballarat, to find out more about how and why a regional city pulled together to produce a hospital grade ventilator. 

Michael was instrumental in getting the GeVentor ball rolling: The team behind this project represents a collaboration between Gekko Systems, Committee For Ballarat, local anaesthetists, local doctors, Eurekative, and Runway – all coming together for a common goal: to design and produce a ventilator that can be quickly and easily manufactured here for use in hospitals. He also has some predictions for what the post COVID world will look like.

Gekko Systems GeVentor final protoype May 24
GeVentor final protoype May 24, 2020. Photo courtesy of Gekko Systems


How did you come to be involved in this project?

Committee for Ballarat’s role started with the ventilator project one Sunday afternoon when I was talking to a very good mate of mine who’s the head of ICU at Ballarat Base Hospital. This is now some weeks ago, and the concern at that stage was that the health system is going to be overrun. We haven’t got access to enough equipment; ventilators are the critical part of that equipment. We’re at the end of the supply chain – the rest of the world needs them. We’re gonna be in strife! So Monday morning I picked up the phone to Elizabeth and Sandy Lewis-Gray to say, “look there’s this possibility here that we’re going to be in a bit of strife with ventilators. Who do you know around town who might be able to turn their attention to it?”, and Sandy straight away said, “yeah I think I can. Leave it with me for a couple of days”. I didn’t think too much about it.

That was Monday morning.

Thursday afternoon Elizabeth rings me and says “look, um, Sandy’s got a working prototype. We’d like you to come out and have a look at it.”. 

I said, “what do you mean?” 

“He’s been tinkering around in the shed and he thinks he can make it work with adapting some of the technologies that we’ve used as part of our jig work 20 years ago.”

“Wow okay, so let’s go out and have a look” 

Sandy Gray GeVentor Adam Trafford Courier
Sandy Gray, of Gekko Systems, with the ventilator prototype he designed and built (the green part is the valve component that was produced in our Fab Lab). Photo courtesy of Adam Trafford, the Courier, Ballarat

And they were excited – clearly a very rudimentary model meant that they had a lot of work to do, and I offered our role to say look we can help to connect to you with various people around the region and the state potentially to develop this further.

So the genesis really was a conversation about: 

We think we’re going to be overrun. 

We don’t think we don’t have enough equipment. 

How might we get more?

And Sandy saying, “let me have a crack at seeing what I can do”, and hence here we are.

Ian Firns valve prototype
Ian Firns (Eurekative) holding the GeVentor valve component which he produced in Runway’s Fab Lab

This interview was recorded on May 15th, 2020

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