COVID-19: The ventilator challenge

18 March 2020

As part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is closely involved in the discussions with Government to step up production of vital medical equipment, such as ventilators.

Responding to coronavirus and reducing the spread of the peak requires a national effort and on Monday the Prime Minister called on the UK’s manufacturers to help. Boris Johnson set the ambition for industry to manufacture as many new ventilators as possible, so we can all help the most vulnerable and our NHS, whose staff have been working round the clock. Firms were asked to help by offering skills and expertise as well as manufacturing the components themselves. Businesses can get involved in any part of the process: design, procurement, assembly, testing, and shipping. You can see a read out of the PM’s briefing here.

In addition to the Prime Minister’s briefing, the call has gone out from Government for anyone who supplies ventilator equipment to step forward. There is also a further 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. These specifications will be reviewed by a group at PA Consulting, which is acting as project manager for this challenge. We understand that the five specifications will be down-selected to one or more key contenders. This will then be the opportunity for the engineering community to look at a specification.

Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are asking prospective companies to log their interest in helping via a website (https://ventilator.herokuapp.com/). The site asks them to provide some basic information on their capabilities and what resources they might be able to provide to help the country meet the urgent need for ventilators. A triage system is being developed to look at the offers of capability against the task. Clearly those already in the medical devices space will be in a position to respond but, from the initial contacts, there is a substantial pent up offer of help from the broader manufacturing community and, as we know the major industrial companies have been approached directly to help, most likely as system integrators.

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