Czech firm switches from car production to helping make ventilators for US

Photo: archive of RWT

Czech carmakers and associated industries have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Faced with this challenge, one family-run firm is now drawing on its expertise to fight Covid-19 itself, helping the production of much-needed ventilators in the US.

The North-East Bohemian town of Rychnov nad Kněžnou has been thriving in recent years, as local businesses have answered demand for parts for the Czech automotive industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit production in this most important of Czech industrial sectors hard. But at least one local business has managed to adapt.

Founded during the Czechoslovak First Republic, Rojek Wide Belt Sanders (RWT), was originally focused on manufacturing woodworking instruments, but has since shifted its main focus to producing machines in the automotive sector.

With business booming, the company sought to expand to the United States. Little did they know that they would soon be supplying their American partners with something other than automotive equipment, says company representative Tomáš Uher.

Photo: archive of RWT
“The partnership with our [US] partner began last year, when we were visiting a tech exhibition in Chicago. At the time, no one knew about coronavirus. Our machines were entering the US market for the standard use of finishing of parts cut by lasers.

“But then, demand for ventilators suddenly grew significantly, so we got a request from our partner to develop a machine which will be able to make ventilator components.

“American demand for ventilators began to grow when the situation in New York hospitals was getting ever worse. The first machines for ventilator production that we delivered were installed on May 14.”

The machine has already produced over 2,000 parts used in ventilators for COVID-19 patients, saving valuable time when compared to manual deburring, and RWT delivered another to the US just last week.

Mr Uher says it is true that the car industry is heavily hit by the fallout of the pandemic and resulting lockdown measures. However, he says that, because cars and medical equipment are both made from stainless steel, some companies have managed to make the switch. This includes domestic supply, where hospitals have not yet been affected by severe ventilator shortages.

“We are also producing and delivering our machines to Czech companies that make medical components such as hospital beds, dentist chairs and other products from stainless steel components.

“At the moment, we have more than 80 machines installed in the Czech Republic.”

Meanwhile, American demand for RWT machines has grown significantly since the successful deliveries made over the past two months and a further six deburring machines are on their way to the US to help in the fight against COVID-19.