By Mic Cardone, Director of Systems Integration, Tom Chudyk, Sales Director, Fred Morgenstern, Product Director, Janet Tufo, Marketing Director, Neutrik USA, in conversation with Connector Supplier
Demand for ventilators skyrocketed in the early months of the pandemic, inspiring a wave of innovative new equipment designs. However, the success of these fast-to-market inventions centered on finding the right medical-grade connectors. Here’s how one company met the need.
Very early on, it became clear that diagnostic equipment, supplemental oxygen, and ventilators would be critical to the treatment of serious cases of COVID-19. As the pandemic spread around the globe, designers and manufacturers of medical equipment needed to meet a huge demand quickly, even as many electronics supply chains experienced closures or delays. Enterprising engineers developed a wide range of new ventilator designs that could be quickly approved and manufactured using approved medical-grade connectivity products. These new designs could not fail, so the pressure fell on components to ensure reliability. Meanwhile, governments and health care systems also placed large orders for existing equipment models that had been designed around specific connectors. This unprecedented demand helped make connector suppliers a front-line industry during an incredibly challenging time. Connector suppliers and electronics distributors stepped up to play many roles in 2020, demonstrating responsiveness and flexibility under pressure. Here’s how one supplier rose to meet this critical need.
“In March 2020, Neutrik USA began receiving extraordinarily large neutriCON orders from our distributor partners. All of the requests were super urgent,” said Tom Chudyk, Neutrik USA’s sales director. “As so often happens, many of the orders were from different distributors chasing the same manufacturing build. It was clear that demand for these parts had soared far beyond anything we had previously experienced. All of the overlapping orders and locations made it quite difficult for us to determine the true customer demand. It eventually turned out that six contract manufacturing locations were being serviced by eight different distributor locations.”
Neutrik USA and its distributors ensured that all relevant connector stock — including components that could fill the need typically met by complete connector solutions — was allocated to ventilator production. Still, that was not nearly enough to meet the demand. Neutrik USA worked with Neutrik’s Liechtenstein manufacturing facility to ramp up production and air ship parts. Neutrik USA caught up with demand entirely by June. By summer 2020, the company had significantly increased relevant stock in its Charlotte, North Carolina, warehouse to accommodate any potential future ventilator-based demand.
“This effort was tough because it was so important, with so many different players involved. Even so, it was extremely helpful to Neutrik’s morale during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Chudyk. “Working through the logistics issues, we were keenly aware that, through neutriCON, we were supporting life itself. What could be more important?”
How did Neutrik and the medical equipment manufacturer come together to develop a ventilator solution?
In 2015, Neutrik’s neutriCON rugged circular connector series was designed into an extremely rugged portable life support system (LSS) targeted for military use. The design brief indicated that the product needed to be “indestructible” even when used in extremely harsh, high-vibration environments such as onboard military helicopters.
The OEM said it was a challenge to find a connector that could withstand the rigorous vibration and impact testing required. Neutrik USA’s OEM Manager (now Director of Systems Integration) Mic Cardone introduced the OEM’s engineering team to neutriCON OSC8M and ORP8F. These rugged circular connectors passed the engineers’ required testing with flying colors. neutriCON’s rugged materials, push-pull locking mechanism, contact capture and alignment, and large contact surface area were all critical to their acceptance. Neutrik is primarily known for its AV connectors, but the company’s connectors are also widely deployed in medical, industrial, mil-aero, and other high-reliability applications.
The portable LSS design became a national standard on aircraft and remains current today. neutriCON’s suitability for the rugged LSS market led the client company to adopt it within a variety of other products. One of those product lines was ventilators.
What unique aspects of ventilator design guide the selection of connectors for these machines?
Ventilators’ multiple sensor and control functions require a number of discrete electrical channels. Because ventilator components must survive thousands of mating cycles over their lifespans, long-term durability and exceptional ruggedness of the connector system is critical. Additionally, ventilator operators, regardless of their level of training, benefit from small, easy-to-handle form factors with intuitive, foolproof, and positive mating/locking and unmating/unlocking. Neutrik’s 8-contact (neutriCON and etherCON), 10-contact (8+2 XLR), and 12-contact (miniCON) copper product lines are well-suited for ventilators and similar devices where multiple low-voltage electrical signals must be transmitted. Additionally, ease of termination and compatibility with suitable rugged cables is required.
Did this experience change the way the company will work with its OEM clients in the future?
This design win led to other product designs at some of the world’s largest medical device manufacturers. Additionally, the vibration resistance of the connectors — as validated by the LSS design firm — proved to be a compelling factor for adoption of Neutrik’s connectors within the automobile and boat racing industries. The design firm that initially chose neutriCON for its rugged LSS products continues to develop medical device systems (MDS) on a global scale. We also confirmed that, as a team under significant stress, we could come together, put the customer first, and deliver with great speed while providing clear and honest communication to every stakeholder.
This experience was unique due to the unprecedented spike in ventilator demand for coronavirus patients. What was not unique is that we at Neutrik are continually surprised and delighted by the applications for which customers choose our connectors. It is common, as we review design wins, for us to learn about whole new product types that had not been central to our radar before. That’s part of the fun of being in the connector business.