Breathing new life into healthcare: How a company producing solar panels started manufacturing ventilators

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Updated: Jul 15, 2020 8:02 PM

There have been no recalls. Our ventilators have run 24/7 for over 25 days and, in some cases, more than that. We have kept everything under our control.

Nikhil Kurele, Co-founder & CEO, Nocca RoboticsNikhil Kurele, Co-founder & CEO, Nocca Robotics (Portrait by Shyam Kumar Prasad)

A company that was producing solar panel cleaning robots until three months ago has started manufacturing ventilators. It has received certification from the HLL and has started delivering orders. More importantly, Nikhil Kurele, co-founder & CEO of Nocca Robotics Pvt Ltd, says the company can now produce 40 ventilators per day and can easily scale up to 80. He shares with FE’s Ishaan Gera that less than 20% of the components are sourced from outside the country. In its third iteration, Nocca’s Noccarc V310 is a fully-functioning ICU ventilator and costs less than similar global models. Excerpts:

You were producing solar panel cleaning robots earlier, what made you shift to ventilators?

We were primarily into solar panel cleaning robots until March this year. We got a call from one of the professors from IIT Kanpur, and he asked us to look into manufacturing medical devices/equipment. As we had experience in robotics and control, we decided to enter into the ventilator project. Once we designed the schematics, we referred our work to senior intensivists to improve upon our design. We have senior doctors who are associated with IIT Kanpur. The first week went in the evaluation of the design.

How difficult was it to create a ventilator from scratch, and how many revisions did you make?

Designing the machine was not the difficult part, but ensuring that patient safety and other aspects are not compromised took a lot of time. IIT Kanpur and our investors Indian Angel Network formed a task force comprising people from the healthcare industry. There were 22 experienced professionals in the task force, five of whom were from the med-tech industry.

Another part of the task force was ensuring the supply chain is not broken, and parts are sourced easily. At that point of time, looking at global standards—like the UK and Canada emergency ventilator standards—we decided to make the product based on these parameters. And because of the urgency of the situation, these standards were low, so our first iteration, the V110, had pressure-control mode, but not the volume-control mode. Doctors helped us realise what all changes are required.

The task was to make something that is user-friendly and similar to what they have used. This was when we realised that the number of cases were not high. So, we started working on the V210, which has a volume-control mode.

Are you making standard ICU ventilators or transport ventilators?

The ones we are making are fully-functioning ICU ventilators. The ventilator that we have now, the V310, has almost all the modes required by doctors. In case of Covid-19, where you need the HFNC (high-flow nasal cannula) mode as well, it is available, as are BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) modes. Then we have the PRVC (pressure-regulated volume control) mode, and have both volume and pressure control. Initially, the V210 had the manual FiO2 (fraction of inspired oxygen) mode; the V310 has the automatic FiO2 mode. When we took our ventilators to DGHS doctors, we got feedback for integrating certain modes and features, and electronic control was one such feature. We initially did not incorporate it as the components were not easily available in India, but the HLL committee assured us that the DRDO has done the research to manufacture these kinds of components. So, we got those components and incorporated them. We made this provision and again took it to the HLL committee. The demonstration was done at the Nirman Bhawan in Delhi and we got the certification.

Do you have patents for the design?

We have filed two patents for this product.

Have there been any tests?

The machine was ready six weeks ago and has already been tested in private and government hospitals across India. It has been 20 days since we cleared the HLL doctors’ committee requirement.

What is the cost of these ventilators?

I cannot share the exact figure; the cost is not as low as Rs 1.48 lakh (AgVa ventilator), but is somewhere close to Rs 4 lakh. Because it is a full-fledged ICU ventilator, it’s a bit expensive.

What about the certification process?

The government of India has asked for certain certification. We already have these. Right now, there are no CDSCO guidelines; we have done clinical validations. The CDSCO will soon come up with a standard, and we will be ready for that. The HLL committee required an IEC certification, and we have that. We have some additional desired features as well that are not part of HLL requirements.

How many ventilators can you make?

We have a capacity of making 40 ventilators per day, and this can be scaled to 80. We have 25-30 ventilators in eight hospitals. The BDL is one of our manufacturing partners, so our ventilators have been validated even by government hospitals. We have several orders from Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. In total, we have requests from five hospitals.

Have there been any recalls?

There have been no recalls. Our ventilators have run 24/7 for over 25 days and, in some cases, more than that. We have kept everything under our control.

How much of this product is made in India and how much is imported?

Less than 20% of our components are imported. Because there were large orders, like for 60,000 ventilators, a lot of components are now being produced in India. In our case, we designed the product around easily available components.

The components that you import, are these the high-tech ones?

Yes, these are mostly high-tech components, comprising primarily sensors; pressure and flow sensors come from the US and Europe.

Reportedly, there are issues around made-in-India products not being up to the mark…

There are, indeed, a lot of issues; we did not want to rush to the market. There are seven stages of testing, and every critical component is tested before being assembled.

What is the lifecycle of this machine?

The life of a ventilator is over five years, but certain components need to be changed periodically depending on the use case to ensure accuracy.

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