How easy is it for UK manufacturers to start making ventilators?

The world is currently gripped in a pandemic. Covid-19 is tearing through our society and the NHS is struggling to cope. The UK government has called for British manufacturers to start producing parts for ventilators so that hospitals have the right equipment for the wave of coronavirus patients they are facing. Can manufactures step up to the challenge?<br /> <br /> Although the effects of Covid-19 are fairly mild for most people, unfortunately for a small number, the effects can be brutal, or even deadly. In the worst case, the coronavirus causes such difficulty with breathing that those suffering may need assistance from a ventilator just to stay alive. With the transmission of covid-19 being so high, the NHS does not have enough equipment to handle this crisis.<br /> <br /> On 15th March 2020, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced his intentions to ask UK manufacturers, where possible, to start producing parts for ventilators.<br /> <br /> Many manufacturers are keen to help where they can, but switching production to these parts that they have never built before, comes with a unique set of challengers.<br /> <br /> Since the government's call for companies to help manufacture new ventilators, a number of big name engineering companies have featured in the UK’s press.<br /> <br /> The "VentilatorChallengeUK" consortium includes big name companies such as Airbus, Ford, Rolls-Royce and Siemens, and are reported to have received orders for more than 10,000 ventilators from the government, MHRA approval pending. Production is due to begin next week.<br /> <br /> VO: But with the big names having taken the headlines, are the UK Government missing a trick by not including the expertise of smaller, perhaps more agile engineering companies?<br /> <br /> Engineers, anaesthetists and surgeons from the University of Oxford and King’s College London are building and testing prototypes that can be manufactured using techniques and tools available in well-equipped universities and SME workshops.<br /> <br /> The design aims to exploit off-the-shelf components and equipment in a bid to achieve regulatory approval of an opensource design. Once this has been achieved, the approach could unlock potential for a new kind of distributed manufacturing effort.<br /> <br /> But before SME’s can begin production of ventilators on any scale, there are a number of obstacles that will need to be addressed.<br /> <br /> With a large number of SME’s across the UK wanting to help during the current crisis, be it through the agile nature of their manufacturing techniques or helping through a community led approach with their local hospitals and health services, the question remains…<br /> <br /> Will the UK be able to make the most of our SME’s eagerness and expertise or could the oversight of these engineers lead to a slower response time... only time will tell!

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Gemma Hadley
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Oct 28, 2020

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