Global companies come together to make ventilators for the NHS

A consortium of major UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors has come together to produce medical ventilators for the NHS.

Companies including Ford, GKN and Microsoft have explored production of a range of ventilators based on designs from UK firms Penlon and Smiths Group.

Doctors and the UK government have said they need more of the life-saving devices amid the current Coronavirus pandemic, which affects the respiratory system. Ventilators can help people breathe by using a pump to push oxygen into the body and take carbon dioxide out.

Following a formal request from the Government, members of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium have agreed what they will need to design, build, and test a Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System and components at sites across the UK. These will meet specifications set by clinicians and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

The consortium is led by the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, which was set up by Innovate UK, a government agency that works to boost science and technology innovations in this country. Dick Elsy, the catapult’s Chief Executive, said: “This consortium brings together some of the most innovative companies in the world. Every day, their highly-skilled staff collaborate to create solutions that help millions of people, and this project is no different. They are working together with incredible determination and energy to scale up production of much-needed ventilators and combat a virus that is affecting people in many countries. I am confident this consortium has the skills and tools to make a difference and save lives.”

Microsoft is working with its partners Avanade, Content & Code, IT Lab and PTC to support the consortium’s work. It is giving the consortium free access to Teams so that companies can easily message, talk, hold training sessions and share documents from anywhere.

Microsoft HoloLens and mobile devices will run PTC’s Vuforia Expert Capture app to create and share training content. This will give workers guided instructions in how to set up the new production processes needed to make ventilators. In addition, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist will offer hands-free video calling on the HoloLens to let operators collaborate with experts on a PC or mobile device.

Rather than put users in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them. As the Windows 10-based product does not have wires or external cameras, or require a phone or PC connection, users can walk around the objects they create and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice.

The supply chain of the ventilators is being supported by Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management, enabling the consortium to order parts and oversee the process through to the manufacture and assembly of the finished product. Everyone can also see who bought the parts and where they were sent. That’s crucial in a supply chain involving multiple companies. The process is so complex that it would normally take up to 12 months to set up a solution; however, Microsoft worked with Accenture to launch it in just three weeks.

“There is no more critical sector at this moment than healthcare, which is why we have been working around the clock to support the NHS on a number of fronts since this COVID-19 crisis began,” said Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK Chief Executive. “Now, through the power of HoloLens, Microsoft Teams and Dynamics 365, we are proud to play a role in helping produce these critical life-saving devices.”

The companies involved in the consortium are:

  • Airbus
  • BAE Systems
  • Ford
  • GKN Aerospace
  • High Value Manufacturing Catapult
  • Inspiration Healthcare
  • Meggitt
  • Penlon
  • Renishaw
  • Rolls-Royce
  • Siemens
  • Smiths Group
  • Thales
  • Ultra Electronics
  • Unilever
  • UK-based F1 teams Haas F1, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Racing Point, Renault Sport Racing and Williams

Enablers of the consortium include:

  • Arrow Electronics
  • Avanade
  • Dell Electronics
  • Microsoft
  • PTC