It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. (Not the typical take)

The title of this post sounds like a story about nepotism, but it’s actually a story about engineering and making things.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about people making DIY ventilators for far cheaper than they are normally produced. Anywhere from 10X-300X cheaper. The problem is that these “ventilators” aren’t actually that. They are simple air pumps. They don’t have feedback loops that prevent the person from taking over breathing themselves AND getting a blast of air, which could potentially put pressure on their heart, or cause damage to the lung from over-inflation.

So why do ventilators cost so much?

It’s possible there are cheaper ways to design and manufacture a ventilator.

When engineers design a component, they may have requirements for weight, strength, wear, or other variables in addition to simply needing the component to be a certain shape to perform it’s task. When taken together, these specifications determine the manufacturing methods. With a simple shape like a long rod with a half circle at the end that needs to be strong, and heavy, machining may be an option. Or it’s possible that the same shape could be cut out of sheet metal, bent, welded and have weights added inside. There are often several alternatives to any design for any component, yet manufacturing is an art.

The vendors that someone chooses or knows may change the way components are designed. Not choosing that sheet metal design is a good decision if lacking a supplier that can do that complex of work, or deliver in the timeframe you need for the quantities needed.

Can a ventilator be made cheaper? Perhaps, if an engineering team, who was well-versed in supply chains came in to look at each component and figure out if they could be produced by more economical means. However, this engineering team isn’t free either, and their cost will need to be factored into these new cheaper ventilators.

Why isn’t their cheaper ventilators, no one has taken the gamble to say, “I know the right people, and I believe I can redesign this thing to be made much cheaper.” While also doing it fast enough that the cost of the redesign doesn’t outstrip any manufacturing savings.

When the world gets down to making things, who you know matters to the design and the final product. Whether that’s engineering, media production, legal arguments, or anything else that can be thought of. If you don’t know someone with the skills, or the tools to do something. then it can’t be done for your project.