GB Remanufacturing

GB Remanufacturing president/CEO Mike Kitching (left) and engineering manager Zack Evert (right) pose for a photo with Long Beach Memorial Hospital respiratory therapy manager James Pierce while delivering respirator parts.

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Joe Evert called Brian Knick asking for help. Evert had been trying to figure out how to reconstruct ventilators for hospitals to use. Knick had a longtime business relationship with Evert, who was searching for a way to pull off his idea.

The pairing worked out. Evert, the director of operations at GB Remanufacturing in Long Beach, California, finally found someone who could help create his models. Knick, who runs Knick Machining in Bozeman, was willing to make it happen.

“We hear about all these companies helping,” Evert said. “This guy doing 3D face masks and these mom-and-pop stores sewing face masks together. We thought, ‘How can we help?’”

Evert, who previously spent 10 years living in Bozeman, eventually sent 100 ventilator parts to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. He worked closely with Knick, as well as his son, Zack Evert, who attended Montana State and is GB’s engineering manager.

The Everts combined their engineering background with a machine manufacturing company like Knick’s to create new ventilator parts and assist the health care system. Both companies donated their time and production to help treat COVID-19 patients.

“With stuff like this that directly goes into health equipment, it just seems like a very small thing we could do,” said Sheila Knick, office manager at Knick Machining.

As the pandemic spread throughout the United States, Joe Evert learned of various companies pooling their resources to help hospitals. He then wanted to contribute. After asking around, he heard back on April 10 from Long Beach Memorial, which needed ventilators to be adjusted.

The hospital expected the peak of COVID-19 cases to arrive in about a week-and-a-half. On Tuesday, the new parts were delivered to the hospital.

The challenge was creating a piece that could transform standard ventilators into pressure ventilators, Evert said. Typically, ventilators help patients breathe but upon exhales, the breath goes out into the room. Pressure ventilators are designed so that exhales are captured and breaths don’t reach the rest of the room.

“With all these patients, ventilators were the weak link in the whole health care system,” Evert said. “They were going to run out of ventilators. If they could repurpose these ventilators, they could possibly save more lives and use them to help these patients.”

After coming up with a plan, Evert contacted 3D printing companies that told him the project would take six to 12 weeks. Some could only create single-use pieces that couldn’t withstand sterilization.

“We got a little scared honestly,” Evert said. “They’re making the call to us and we might fail if we can’t figure something out.”

But after a few late nights working, Evert and others eventually made a usable model. GB Remanufacturing typically works with automotive parts and uses Knick Machining as a vendor. And Knick was able to carry out the production.

Recognizing the urgency of the project, Knick worked through the night to expedite the process.

“At that point, the main issue was speed, just getting him some prototypes,” Sheila Knick said. “It didn’t seem like a big sacrifice on our part. We were happy to contribute.”

Parts were sent overnight from Bozeman, GB assembled them, tested them and then sent a delivery to the hospital. Not only did the new ventilator part work well, it could be sterilized and used multiple times.

Knick Machining then made the number of parts the hospital needed.

“We just want to do what we can toward getting on top of this thing,” Sheila Knick said, “and solving problems when we can.”

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.