Safearth Helps Develop COVID-19 ICU Ventilators

Safearth is proud to be a part of a team selected by the New South Wales Government in Australia to design and manufacture specialized ventilators to help save lives of critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Australian engineering company, Ampcontrol was approached by New South Wales (NSW) Health in late March about the possibility of the development. Given the technical challenge and urgent timeline, Ampcontrol assembled a team of some of the best engineers and engineering companies they knew, including Safearth.

Although the team had little experience in building medical products, all had substantial experience in R&D and product development and were recognized leaders in electrical engineering. Both Ampcontrol and Safearth also had proven experience in developing products for safety-critical systems where lives are at stake.

The challenge was set to develop a functional prototype ICU ventilator suitable for use on COVID-19 patients in an ambitious 4-week timeframe. Working seven days a week, and very long days, project sub-teams developed several different concept designs. Some concepts relied upon traditional methods and parts. Others concepts were more innovative, and used parts that could be manufactured locally in the highly likely event of supply-chain availability limitations.

“When you are on a war footing, you have to put aside the old processes, but not the principles. Fundamentals are key.” Stephen Palmer, Managing Director, Safearth

Our multidiscipline team set to work gaining a clear understanding of the problem, by engaging industry experts and in-depth discussion with biomedical engineers, clinicians, and other medical staff. We approached the design with a first principles approach: considering the requirements and constraints, simplifying the problem to its most fundamental level, and then applying ‘rapid loops’ of engineering development – establish and test hypotheses, quickly build concept solutions, and gain fast and regular stakeholder reviews. This iterative approach produced fast development while achieving high-quality outcomes.

The results so far have been extremely positive. Within days, pre-existing designs from around the world (both commercial and ‘make-shift’) were critically reviewed. Within 11 days, concepts were built and tested. Within 18 days, a prototype was delivered to NSW Health for testing in a simulated environment, which was met with great success. Furthermore, our proposed solution is expected to cost substantially less than existing commercial solutions and has the potential for use around the world.

There have been several keys to the success of the project so far:

  • Engineering principles are the bedrock of all development. “When you are on a war footing, you have to put aside the old processes, but not the principles,” said Safearth’s Managing Director, Stephen Palmer. “Fundamentals are key.”
  • The right team was engaged. Cross-functional and appropriately sized, the team included clever, dedicated people. While principally an engineering challenge, the ideal team included a blend of professionals and technicians, with experience across a range of industries.
  • Multi-thread, iterative approach. Parallel development of alternative solutions, only some of which would be continued, allowed each sub-team to focus on a clear and narrow scope. The time-critical nature of the project meant that traditional development methods would be insufficient to satisfy the urgency of the project. We needed to employ a rapid development approach using fast iterative loops to quickly get us to the optimal solutions.
  • Regular communication. Daily updates within the sub-teams and across the larger team, allowed rapid learning from the successes and challenges of other sub-teams.

At Safearth, we have always been about providing valuable solutions to real problems. And we are very much looking forward to the prospect of getting these into the hands of medical staff who desperately need them in Australia and around the world.

The next stage for the project is building 10 pre-production units for testing, approval, and delivery for trial in NSW hospitals.

We’d like to thank and congratulate project leaders Ampcontrol, and other R&D Partners Newie Ventures, ResTech and The University of Newcastle.

With a skilled team of engineers and technicians, and our rapid research, development and manufacturing capability, Safearth is well equipped to help you with your engineering challenges and product development needs. Contact us at

And if you are looking for the next step in your career, why not look to join our team? Drop us a line at