The ventilators the NHS needs going into mass production - and Dyson isn't involved

The NHS desperately needs ventilators to treat patients with coronavirus so news that James Dyson has developed a design for one that could go into production in the next few weeks has understandably attracted a lot of attention.

The government has indeed expressed interest in ordering 10,000 of the Dyson's CoVent machines but - and here’s the rub - only when they get "clinical approval," which they don't have currently and it's by no means certain they will get.

There are however ventilators which are tried, tested, proven and look set to go into mass production on Monday.

That's because a host of world famous manufacturers, engineering firms and Formula One teams have put aside traditional rivalries and joined forces to scale-up production of two existing ventilators.

  • Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills explains how more than 20 companies will work with Smith Medical in ramping up production of the Parapac 300 ventilator

The consortium of more than twenty companies includes: Airbus; GKN; Rolls Royce; BAE Systems; Ford; Siemens; Mclaren; Red Bull; Renault Sport; Mercedes; Microsoft and Unilever.

Together they will help Smith Medical ramp up the manufacturing of its Parapac 300 ventilator, which is already used in hospitals and ambulances.

The consortium has also taken the design of a portable, battery powered ventilator made by Penlon and finessed it. The changes have been developed in consultation with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) who have been fully engaged.

A portable ventilator kit. Credit: AP

The expectation is that component manufacturing and the assembly of the ventilators will begin next week at a host of sites across the UK, including a GKN facility on Isle of Wight, Siemens in Sudbury and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Broughton, North Wales, where Airbus is the main tenant.

Production will start slowly and then ramp up. The ambition is to produce at least 10,000 ventilators in the coming weeks. They will be sold to the NHS at cost, no company will profit.

This project was born on Friday 13 when the government reached out to industry for help. The scale of the response is completely extraordinary and, in the current circumstances, rather heart-warming.

This is a consortium of all the talents. Every company brings something to party, whether it's expertise in design, assembly, project management, communication technology, 3D printing, logistics or simply factory space.

The companies insist they have mobilised to save lives. Given the pressure the NHS is already under, this doesn’t feel like an overstatement.

The government plans to formally announce this in the next 24 hours. It had asked all of the companies involved to keep shtum until it was ready to publish the details. Dyson is not part of the consortium but had also been asked to keep what it was doing under-wraps.

CoVent is understood to meet the clinician-led specifications for treating Covid-19 patients. Credit: Dyson

This is a team effort and some members of the consortium are clearly irked that it is Dyson that is attracting both the headlines and the praise.

"We're team players, [Dyson] seeks the limelight," one executive told me. Dyson insists it didn’t leak the story.

At the end of day, the general public will care little about the who get the publicity or the glory. Every ventilator delivered to the NHS has the potential to save lives. But the fact is the consortium is ready to go into production, Dyson isn’t.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know