VentilatorChallengeUK unites engineering to deliver Covid-19 ventilators

Within the space of a fortnight VentilatorChallengeUK has heeded the call for the development and production of ventilators urgently needed to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

VentilatorChallengeUK
Covid-19 Coronavirus (Image: Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

On March 16, 2020, government called on the UK’s engineers to make up the anticipated shortfall in ventilators by producing and assembling the life-saving devices.

Since then, The VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium has pulled together 15 companies and groups, seven UK-based F1 teams, and five ‘key enablers’ including Accenture, Microsoft and PTC to rapidly build existing, modified or newly designed ventilators at speed, with seven priority projects underway.

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“They are working to improve the speed at which current UK ventilator manufacturers can produce their devices, with larger companies changing their existing operations to help provide the UK with the equipment and personnel it needs for this effort,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement.

Covid-19 is an acute respiratory condition and ventilators will help the afflicted to breathe by using a pump to push oxygen into the body and take carbon dioxide out. With Consortium assistance, Smiths Group announced on March 30, 2020 that it will ramp up production ‘pacPARC plus’ ventilators to of 10,000 units. Similarly, Abingdon-based Penlon will fast-track the production of its ES02 systems.

VentilatorChallengeUK has also been given government approval to produce 10,000 ventilators that are based on a new Consortium-agreed design that will use existing technologies and be assembled from materials and parts already in production. The Consortium said the device combines existing proven clinical equipment and is the clinicians’ first choice for the RMVS (Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System).

The Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) has supported the development of the supply chain for the project. The organisation’s CEO James Selka said: “We warmly welcome the fact that such a wide ranging consortium of UK engineering companies has, at this time of national emergency, been able to work so quickly to produce ventilators urgently needed for use in our NHS. The MTA has been delighted that our members, who supply critical technology to manufacturers, have been so ready to help this vital national effort.”

Led by Dick Elsy, the Consortium counts Airbus, BAE Systems, Renishaw, Siemens, Unilever and Thales among its members, with the latter understood to be using its background in defence training and simulation to teach people how to operate the ventilators. F1 teams are on board as they’re used to high precision, quick turnaround projects under tight deadlines. For their part, Microsoft is giving the Consortium free access to Teams, which will allow members to message, talk, hold training sessions and share documents. Similarly, Microsoft HoloLens and mobile devices will run PTC’s Vuforia Expert Capture app to create and share training content, giving guided instructions on how to set up new production processes needed to make ventilators.

“The common purpose, cooperation and collaboration shown by the Ventilator Challenge Consortium is going to be far more effective in the battle against the global coronavirus pandemic than any of the vainglorious posturing of others,” commented Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing.