Tesla Engineers Become Heroes in the Fight Against COVID-19

As the world fights the COVID-19 virus, we all recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of heroes who brave the danger of the virus and contribute to the fight. Doctors and nurses battle the virus up close and personal; truck drivers keep the supply chain open; grocery and stocking clerks make sure we have food on our tables, first responders are out in the streets addressing emergencies as they arise.

Above: An engineer at Tesla explaining the process of making ventilators utilizing parts from Tesla vehicles (Image: Tesla)

But there’s another group of heroes that gain little media recognition—maybe because the media really doesn’t understand the important work they do. It’s the engineers working in thousands of companies that adapt production systems to meet unprecedented demands or retool production lines to make products that are required for the fight against the virus. Tesla engineers are among the group of heroes that have joined the fight, building ventilators using a significant percentage of automotive parts taken from Model 3.

In an amazing video, Tesla engineers tell us how they're cobbling together Model 3 components along with some additional gear—hardware, software, displays, circuits, sensors, controllers—to prototype life-saving ventilators for use in hospitals for those COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.

Above: An engineering update on the Tesla ventilator (YouTube: Tesla)

To better understand this video, EVANNEX engineers break the process down for you.

Defining the problem. Like most engineering projects, Tesla engineers began by defining the problem—crafting a ventilator that can be produced in volume as quickly and effectively as possible.

Identifying Constraints. Tesla engineers consider the constraints that impact the problem—in this case, a scarcity of the normal components that might be used to build ventilators.

Conceptualizing the solution. They then conceptualized a solution—use as many existing Tesla parts as possible, repurposing them for use as components of a ventilator.

And then the real engineering work begins.

Building a schematic.  First, Tesla engineers developed a schematic diagram that indicates all subsystems that are required to build a ventilator. They populate each subsystem with a collection of parts (both repurposed Tesla parts and those acquired from other sources) to achieve the functionality required for the subsystem. 

Prototyping.  Next, Tesla engineers prototyped their solution—that is, they transform a paper schematic into a physical thing that provides a first-level solution for part or all of the original problem. As Tesla engineers describe the prototype, a layperson sees a blizzard of parts, connectors, pipes, sensors, and wires that look incomprehensible. An engineer sees a combination of components (some off-the-shelf and others custom-built to purpose) all working together to achieve specific functions.

It’s important to note that the prototype is not “the” solution nor is it the end product—it’s actually a mechanism that helps Tesla engineers understand what works and what doesn’t while crafting better and more effective solutions to the problems that are encountered.

Integration.  Once the fundamental ventilator functionality is achieved, Tesla engineers move on to the next step, integration. Here, the hardware is integrated with Tesla digital hardware and software that are used in the Model 3 infotainment system coupled with a variety of “vehicle controllers” and associated sensors that are repurposed for ventilator functionality. As an aside, it’s fun to see the Model 3 display being used to indicate various aspects of ventilator (and lung) function.

Control Functionality.  All of this integrated hardware and software are used to achieve specific functionality—pressure regulator volume control, pressure control, and volume control—all critical functions that medical professionals need to help patients.

Simulation and Preliminary Testing.  It’s not enough to build a thing, you have to test it in a real world setting. Tesla engineers had to build complementary components such as a “respiratory simulator” that simulates a human lung. The Model 3 touch screen display is used to depict pressure, flow, and volume as the ventilator does its work.

Tesla engineers must now refine and optimize their design, create an approach for fabricating it in volume, and then perform additional testing in a more advanced real-world setting, calibrating and validating the device to be certain it provides the functionality required by physicians.

But make no mistake, without the efforts of engineers at Tesla and thousands of other companies worldwide, the other heroes that we all applaud and respect would be in trouble—big trouble.

All of the heroes in the COVID-19 crisis have a role to play and a contribution to make. Tesla engineers have stepped up and are contributing in a way that should make the entire Tesla community proud.

Be safe out there!


Written by: Roger Pressman, Founder of EVANNEX