The war against the novel coronavirus has found many willing soldiers in Colorado Springs.

A local inventor is working on a way to quickly create a supply of ventilators to treat coronavirus patients. A Springs company is looking to manufacture hundreds of face masks a week. Another company makes semiconductors used in devices that analyze the DNA of the virus.

FULL COVERAGE: Updates and analysis on the pandemic from around Colorado.

Here is a look at those and other efforts:

Optical Engines

Don Sipes, who owns Optical Engines, a local laser company, is working to develop a ventilator using a common device used to treat sleep apnea, an inexpensive laptop and off-the-shelf parts; he started working on the project last month at the behest of his wife, Linda Llewellyn. He hopes to have 10 to 20 working prototypes within days and find a manufacturing partner to license the designs and begin producing 10,000 of what he calls the "RE-Inventilator" to combat a looming shortage of the machines.

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Sipes hopes to be able to produce the RE-Inventilator for about $200 using reconditioned and cleaned continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines used to treat sleep apnea, combining them with a blower, pressure sensor, a controller to pulse the air to the patient, a cheap computer to control the machine and a touch screen. He said the entire machine could be assembled in about 30 minutes.

"The whole issue in producing ventilators is the supply chain. To increase the supply of ventilators, you have to use parts that are not already part of the existing supply chain," said Sipes, who uses a CPAP machine. "We decided to use a CPAP machine because there are 2 million to 3 million people using them, and you have to get a new machine every five years," ensuring a steady supply of parts.

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Sipes teamed up with Dr. Julian Botta, an emergency room resident at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore and author of an online paper on what a "simple" mechanical ventilator should include to be safe and effective, to help him design the device. Botta said at least two dozen other groups worldwide are working on similar projects, including one in Belgium in which he also is involved.

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Botta said Sipes and his team "have done amazing work in a short amount of time and are making good progress in the short term. It (the RE-Inventilator) looks like it is on track to be a viable and workable product, whether it is used in this country at this time or in a future crisis or overseas, and has adequate sensors and safeguards that I believe will make it quite safe."

Sipes has many of the 14 employees of Optical Engines, which designs and builds advanced laser systems for the military, medical, industrial and scientific markets, working nights and weekends on the RE-Inventilator project. He and others working on the project launched a GoFundMe campaign late last month to raise $50,000 for pay for parts and test equipment to make the initial prototypes.

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EPTAM PRECISION METALS

The Colorado Springs-based contract medical manufacturer began production Monday of a manifold for a ventilator manufacturer the company declined to name, said Shaun Francel, Eptam's general manager.

The company, part of New Hampshire-based Eptam Precision Solutions,  is producing the part with its current staff of 145 employees, but Francel said Eptam plans to hire 10 to 15 additional workers as it ramps up production in the next few weeks. The positions will be posted at www.eptam.com/career-opportunities.cfm when hiring begins, he said.

Eptam Precision Solutions, owned by Frazier Healthcare Partners, acquired Colorado Springs-based Relius Medical last year. The Colorado Springs operation primarily manufactures implants and other trauma-related medical products. The customer contacted Eptam late last month about producing the manifold, Francel said.

"We are well equipped to handle the requirements of this customer. The order is slightly outside of what we do regularly, so we will need to order some additional raw materials and tools as we ramp up," Francel said.

QUALTEK MANUFACTURING

The Colorado Springs-based specialty metal manufacturer has begun ramping up production of a key part for ventilators with plans to ship 50,000 in the next month, said Qualtek President Christopher Fagnant.

Qualtek began working three years ago to supply a heat exchange plate, which heats oxygen coming out of the ventilator into the patient's lungs, to a major ventilator manufacturer Fagnant declined to name. The part is replaced on a regular basis, he said. The company also has submitted a price quote for an aluminum part for another ventilator line that he hopes will begin production soon.

Demand for a laryngoscope part Qualtek has produced for 13 to 14 years for an undisclosed major respiratory equipment provider also is booming, increasing 50% in March and another 50% this month, Fagnant said. Sales of the device are surging because the device is used by doctors to look at a patient's airways, a common need with coronavirus patients, he said.

Qualtek added six employees to its 45-person workforce to ramp up production of the two products, Fagnant said.

"This is about playing our part. Both products are used in emergency situations, so they have to be made with the highest quality," Fagnant said. "A lot of our employees were worried three weeks ago about whether we would be allowed to stay open. Not only are we open, we need every employee here to make as many of these parts as we can."

COBHAM ADVANCED ELECTRONICS SOLUTIONS

The Virginia-based electronics manufacturer makes specialized semiconductors at its Colorado Springs plant that are used in advanced devices that analyze the DNA of the COVID-19 virus.

Kevin Jackson, vice president and general manager of Cobham Semiconductor and Space Solutions, a unit of Cobham Advanced Electornics Solutions, said demand for the unit's application-specific integrated circuits (chips customized for particular task) has grown by about 30% in the past month. That's because the chips are used both in the DNA analysis device and also in CT scanners made by medical device giant Philips that are used to diagnose coronavirus and other respiratory conditions.

Cobham has been able to meet the additional demand with its 380 employees, but the company is studying whether to add more shifts to its production line, Jackson said. The plant also continues to produce radiation-hardened ASIC chips and other semiconductors that store information, control other devices and complete other tasks that are used by aerospace and military customers, he said.

"We entered the medical market 20 years ago, employing the same advanced engineering, development and manufacturing expertise that we developed in the space industry," Cohham Advanced Electronic Solutions CEO Shawn Black said this month in a news release. "Today, we are proud that our ASIC solutions are able to contribute to world's fight against the coronavirus."

COLORADO COLLEGE

Two faculty members from the private, liberal arts school are working together to produce up to 10,000 face shields they are donating to local health care and public safety workers.

Rachel Paupeck, an assistant art professor, and Andrea Bruder, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, both began work on using 3D printers to make headbands for the shields and using laser cutting for the heavy-duty plastic shields. They also are working with faculty at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy to boost production.

Paupeck and Bruder have switched to plastic molding to boost production to 500 to 1,000 shields a day and plan to continue production until they run out of materials, which could be in less than a week. They have launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $12,000 for materials to continue production. For more information, see this article on the college's website.

"These are not a substitute for FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved shields, but a stopgap when they don't have anything else," Paupeck said.

EQUIP

The Colorado Springs-based company added face masks to its product line last month with a pilot run of about 40 masks and began volume production about two weeks ago, Equip owner Scott Mullens said.

Equip expects to produce about 200- to 00 reusable masks a week for use by health care workers and first responders and perhaps the consumer market if hospitals and other medical facilities can't use them, Mullens said. The masks are not rated or tested to be used in health care facilities, but include a barrier to block droplets and can be reused because they are made from materials that can be cleaned in an autoclave, he said.

The Colorado Springs small business is working with Colorado Crafting for a Cause to use the craft group's patterns and resources to manufacture the masks and has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $5,000 for materials and other costs. The 19-year-old company employs 11 people to make custom-designed covers for retailers and other industries, but has been struggling as those industries have largely been shut down by stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"Because we are classified as an essential business, we want to make ourselves available as a resource to the community," Mullens said. For more information, contact him at support@equipinc.com.

LEE SPIRITS

The Colorado Springs maker of gin, whiskey and liqueurs started making hand sanitizer about a month ago and produced about 1,000 2-ounce bottles, said Nick Lee, vice president of Lee Spirits.

Making sanitizer has allowed the company to keep all 12 of its employees, though on a reduced schedule since it halted liquor production after closing its Monument tasting room and restricting its downtown location to takeout sales to comply with a March 16 order by Gov. Jared Polis closing bars and dine-in restaurants for 30 days, Lee said.

Lee Spirits donated most of its sanitizer production to El Paso County Public Health, sold some to UCHealth Memorial Hospital and assisted living facilities and gave the rest away to consumers, Lee said. The company can't produce any more sanitizer because it can't secure any additional alcohol or bottles until May, he said.

"We plan to continue production as long as there is demand and we can get supplies, even after the governor's order is lifted," Lee said.

Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234

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