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Science And Health

Meet The Indian Start-up That Developed High-End, Low-Cost Ventilators Within 90 Days

To help India fight COVID-19, Noccarc Robotics, a Pune-based Med-Tech startup, developed ventilators

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Meet The Indian Start-up That Developed High-End, Low-Cost Ventilators Within 90 Days
  • Noccarc was primarily started in 2017 with the focus on robotic innovations
  • During first COVID wave, they ventured into manufacturing of ventilators
  • Noccarc has sold over 2,500 ventilators so far since July 2020

New Delhi: Throwback to March 24, 2020; Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown effective from March 25 (12am) following a rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of the highly infectious COVID-19 disease as a pandemic. Overnight businesses moved offline, some had to pull down their shutters, schools and colleges were shut and only essential services were open. Noccarc Robotics, a Pune-based Med-Tech start-up and an incubatee company of Startup Incubation and Innovation Centre (SIIC), IIT Kanpur, decided to use the opportunity to assist the nation in its fight against COVID-19.

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The Noccarc team developed high-end, low-cost ventilators within 90 days and supplied over 300 of them during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and over 2,500 during the second wave. What’s interesting is that Noccarc primarily started in 2017 with a focus on using robotics to design and develop solutions that cater to real-world problems, ventured into manufacturing ventilators during the pandemic. Prior to that, the team was into robotics.

Talking to NDTV about their journey and the new venture, Nikhil Kurele, co-founder and CEO of Noccarc, said,

We began with manufacturing a robot that could help during wars in urban areas; essentially to support our defence forces but while developing we realised multiple challenges in raising investment and commercialising it especially when the government is your only customer. So, we shifted our focus and in December 2017, we launched our first product which was waterless solar panel cleaning robot and became the first Indian company to commercialise that. In May 2018, we commissioned our first order and a year later, we raised seed funding to set up a factory in Pune and went on to launch advanced version of waterless dry-cleaning robot until the pandemic hit the nation.

The pandemic was a big blow to Noccarc; the business operations came to a halt, but the innovators still had ren and salaries to pay to their team of 22 people. And that’s when Nikhil and his business partner Harshit listed down technologies that had potential in a pandemic and the duo wanted to work upon.

Also Read: Vaccine Explainer: How Does Immunisation Protect Against A Disease?

This was our last chance to sustain Noccarc. We had limited money in our bank accounts. At the same time, we wanted to do something for the nation, so, we finalised on manufacturing ventilators. When we started, the idea was not to differentiate; the purpose was to increase the capacity. However, when we ventured into the market, we realised that not all existing ventilators are at par in terms of quality. They were brought from European countries and have been in the market for around 20 years now. For example, there are two cars – BMW and Maruti. Both have four wheels and brakes but what differentiates the two are driving and braking ability and quality. The same goes for ventilators, there is a standard design but it’s the accuracy in terms of delivery of the volume of air and pressure that matters, said Mr Kurele.

The innovator also shared that most of the ventilators currently being used in India are controlled by knobs but the Noccarc team tried making touchscreen ventilators.

Also Read: COVID-19 Vaccine Explainer: How Do Vaccines Work?

The Challenges In Developing NOCCARC V310 Ventilators

There are two broad categories of ventilators – turbine-based and compressor-based. Turbine-based ventilators do not have to be dependent on a central gas supply infrastructure. Since they are powered by electricity, they can use the room air to create a pressurised flow of air. Noccarc team manufactured turbine-based ventilators. Sharing the thought behind the same, Mr Kurele said,

Turbine-based ventilators can be used under any conditions. During the COVID peak, there were talks of converting railway coaches into isolation centers and it wouldn’t have been feasible to have compressor-based ventilators there.

Though the thought was noble, there were challenges, the major one being the lockdown. Some of the crucial components of the ventilator were imported and due to the various restrictions put in place to control the pandemic, borders were shut.

Our aim has always been to develop a product that can compete at a global level, so we had to ensure quality and also select the right set of components so that the supply chain is not damaged. We being a small company were purchasing in low quantities which made it harder to negotiate the price. We ended up indigenousing 70 per cent of the ventilator, said Mr Kurele.

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The Journey Of NOCCARC V310 Ventilators

Commercially, ventilators were launched on July 15, 2020 and 300 of them were sold within a few days and the team realised that one of the components needed an upgrade. The ventilator was relaunched in November 2020 and the upgraded component was changed in previously sold medical equipment as well.

In January 2021, we sold a good number of ventilators; 90 per cent of them to private hospitals like Medanta Hospital in Gurugram. Private hospitals always test the product first before purchasing it and our ventilators met all the quality standards. We have also put a toll-free number on our devices to address all concerns, said Mr Kurele.

NOCCARC V310 ventilator is priced at Rs. 4.5 lakh, the cost might vary based on the configuration. Mr Kurele informed that similar kind of ventilators available in the market is priced between Rs. 6-7 lakh. When asked how the innovators managed to bring down the cost, Mr Kurele said,

Ventilators were always built outside India and imported to the country or the technology was sold to us resulting in high cost, whereas, we manufactured within the country and at a decent scale. Also, manpower cost is relatively low in India.

With the development of ventilators, the team has also grown overall. In the past year, the team strength has grown from 22 to 130 and plans to increase the team to over 200 members in the next two years. The revenue is expected to touch Rs. 150 crore in the financial year 2022, a massive surge from its financial year 21 revenue of Rs. 15 crore.

Going forward, the team plans to develop a portfolio of products and already has three products coming up in the ICU category. The team is also looking into remote monitoring and data visualisation and working on developing solutions in that sector.

Also Read: Genome Sequencing Is Important To Track, Identify Variants And Control COVID-19 Pandemic: Epidemiologist Aditi Hazra

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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