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Coronavirus: How this company is helping GM produce ventilators

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National Instruments CEO Eric Starkloff joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to discuss how his company is helping GM produce ventilators amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, welcome back. We've been covering for weeks the efforts here around the country from some major companies to help in the effort to create much needed ventilators. We've been bracing for that need across the country in hospitals and ICUs. But there have been multiple efforts from companies that might not have been doing that before, the likes of GM and Ventec pairing up as well as Dyson to create some of these ventilators out there. And they're not doing it alone.

National Instruments is a testing company that has been testing in the medical devices space for more than 40 years when you look at what they've done and they have been helping out with GM and their efforts there as well to make sure that these ventilators or working properly. I want to bring the CEO of National Instruments on right now. Eric Starkloff joins us on the show.

And Eric, I mean, these are companies that did not have experience in making medical devices when you look at GM. Maybe Ventec did. But when they put this together, how have you been there along for the ride to kind of help in what has become a nationwide effort to make sure that production of ventilators is up to meet demand?

ERIC STARKLOFF: Yeah, absolutely. And you're right, Zack, I mean, a ventilator is not a simple device. It's really complex. And the testing of those devices, as you can imagine, is absolutely critical. I mean, you've got to ensure the quality of a very complex device and scale up the volume of those by, you know, an order of magnitude or more.

So that's not a simple undertaking. I can tell you that it's a Herculean effort among engineers collaborating across multiple companies. Our role has been to make sure that the testing equipment is there we've dedicated people in my organization to make sure that we're not a bottleneck, that we can help them make very ambitious scaling targets at the Kokomo plant that's been well publicized but many other companies not just here in the US but around the world as well.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, you're right. I mean, the Kokomo plant has been well-publicized. We heard that discussed even in the White House Task Force meetings here when we talk about GM kind of trying to work to pump these ventilators out. And some people would look at that and say, all right, that's good as long as they work. But what have you seen kind of on the front lines in creating those ventilators and how a company like GM, with the help of what you're providing here, has been able to actually shift and scale that up in such a short time frame?

ERIC STARKLOFF: Yeah. Well, as you can imagine, moving from automotive electronics to a ventilator is very-- is very complex, right? And so you know a lot of collaboration with Ventec, with-- we've got a partner company that's in there that has expertise on the quality control processes that are used on a device like this.

And so what you see in a time like this. And, you know, I'm seeing it my own company. We're seeing it everywhere is people band together for the common good. In this particular instance, you know, that's what's happening. You've got engineers from lots of different companies working all hours. I mean, I've been on-- you know, pulled in on Sunday nights where we're working to make sure that we're, you know, helping these companies achieve the goal. So it's a team effort from lots of companies to achieve those goals.

You know there's also a number of efforts in addition to those companies on the-- companies that are building low-cost ventilators that we're engaged in as well. A lot of them are non-profits. There's one actually here in Austin called P-51. There's open source designs from MIT. We're working on those fronts as well because we want to make sure every option's open, you know, to serve what could be a significant need.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and I mean, it's not just that. I mean, you guys are a publicly traded company. You've been working in the space of testing for quite some time. But you're also working with a Korean company as well, looking into the way that they could produce reusable masks on that front.

So clearly, there's a lot of different ways that companies have jumped in here, not just ventilators but also masks. We've seen the shortage on that side of working with this problem too. What's the update there in terms of what you're trying to see with masks and kind of what you're trying to solve?

ERIC STARKLOFF: Yeah, so you know, for context, NI serves engineers and scientists around the world. And I think a time like this, we all can really appreciate the role that engineers and scientists and technologists play on all these different fronts.

The one you mentioned, is another front. It's the invention of new fabrics, nano-fabrics that are used that can be reused and washed in a better way than current fabrics that exist today. That's a research institute in Korea. But there are many other efforts, you know, on every front of this battle against COVID-19 that engineers and scientists are taking a front seat. And we are a company that is essential to providing the technology to create these quality products and fabrics and systems that are used in that fight.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and always important to have a testing company backstop when automakers shifting to produce ventilators here, but important work. National Instruments CEO Eric Starkloff, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate you taking the time.

ERIC STARKLOFF: Yeah, thank you, Zack.