Engineering firms switch to ventilators to tackle health crisis
23 Mar 2020
UK engineering firms are answering the government’s appeal to produce thousands of desperately needed ventilator equipment for hospitals fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
Health secretary Matt Hancock recently warned that the 8,000 health service ventilators would be stretched to capacity and another 5,000 were needed in weeks.
The extra short term workload would be beyond the capacity of existing ventilators specialists, so other manufacturers are being asked to switch their normal production to focus on the medical equipment.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) said there was now a coordinated approach from engineers and medical experts to target production and ensure consistent quality.
In a statement the organisation said: “There is… a challenge to the wider engineering and manufacturing community to fast-track a simpler ventilator system. We understand that five design companies, with a medical equipment track record, are now working on five specifications, with clinical input.”
It added that the specifications will be reviewed by a group at PA Consulting, acting as project manager. Five specifications will be down-selected to one or more key contenders.
Warwick University is one of several institutions offering its resources to help develop a fast track response to manufacturing medical items.
However, Robert Harrison, professor of automation systems, at the university’s knowledge transfer arm Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), cautioned that there would be a challenge for even leading UK engineering companies to manufacture ventilators.
He said: “JCB, Rolls Royce or others could potentially manufacture ventilators. They have relevant skills and capabilities but – given that all the design and manufacturing related information could be supplied to them – getting the parts and the tooling to manufacture such a thing will be a significant task, perhaps taking many months.
“They would have to tool up production lines and train workers to assemble and test the product. Sourcing the parts, e.g., electronics, valves and air-turbines, quickly could be difficult. These are sophisticated devices. It is crucial that they work correctly in order to keep the patient alive, as these are life-critical pieces of equipment.”
For eligible firms struggling to maintain production and staff levels, the production switch could have an economic benefit too by ensuring the replacement of lost orders.
CORONAVIRUS APPEAL: The BEIS is asking prospective companies to log their interest in helping via the web site (https://ventilator.herokuapp.com/). Applicants will be asked for information on their capabilities and what resources they might be able to.