Major manufacturers join forces to build 10,000 ventilators for NHS

A group of UK manufacturers has received a Government order to build 10,000 ventilators to help treat patients who have contracted coronavirus.

The consortium - which includes carmakers, Formula One teams, and airplane manufacturers - is ready to start producing medical devices under the name Project Oyster.

Ministers have been trying to boost the number of ventilators in recent weeks as they look to increase the stock of just over 8,000 already available to the NHS.

Ventilators take over the body's breathing function by pushing air into the lungs, with the aim of allowing a Covid-19 patient time to fight the infection and recover.

The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium said it has taken about a week to meet exacting specifications developed by clinicians for a rapidly manufactured ventilator system.

The specification has been overseen by Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medical devices in the UK.

It comes as Dyson said that it had received an order from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to build 10,000 of its own CoVent design devices.

The following companies make up the consortium:

  • Airbus

  • BAE Systems

  • Ford Motor Company

  • GKN Aerospace

  • Haas F1

  • High Value Manufacturing Catapult

  • Inspiration Healthcare Group

  • McLaren

  • Meggitt

  • Mercedes

  • Penlon

  • Racing Point

  • Red Bull Racing

  • Renault Sport Racing

  • Renishaw

  • Rolls-Royce

  • Siemens Healthineers and Siemens UK

  • Smiths Group

  • Thales

  • Ultra Electronics

  • Unilever

  • Williams F1

An intensive care unit in Italy where the number of ventilators for patients has been limited. Credit: AP

On Monday, the consortium said it has received a formal order for 10,000 devices but could produce more if needed.

It is expected there will be a "straightforward and very prompt regulatory sign-off" among the consortium - following a final audit - with production understood to be ready to start this week.

The order is made up of Project Oyster, which has involved making slight tweaks to an existing design by Oxfordshire-based firm Penlon, aimed at speeding up the assembly process.

A hospital bed and respirator at the ExCel centre, London, which is being made into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital. Credit: PA

The consortium is also lending its manufacturing muscle to upscaling production of a device called the ParaPac ventilator by Luton-based Smiths Medical - an endeavour called Project Penguin.

Leader of the consortium, Dick Elsy, said the projects brought together firms well used to solving problems, adding "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."

Design image of Dyson’s CoVent ventilator, which attaches to patients’ beds. Credit: Dyson/PA

Vacuum-cleaner builder and engineering firm Dyson announced earlier this week ministers had asked it to produce thousands of ventilators to help in the fight against the pandemic.

Billionaire entrepreneur Sir James Dyson said in a staff email an initial order has been placed for its CoVent design - promising an additional 5,000 donation to the international effort.

A design for the battery-operated device, which would attach to patients' beds, took about 10 days to work up but is yet to get regulatory approval.

The ventilator - created with The Technology Partnership (TTP) - would be assembled at Dyson's Wiltshire facility.

Billionaire Sir James Dyson promised to donate 5,000 ventilators. Credit: PA

On Monday, Staffordshire-based construction equipment giant JCB said it had repurposed part of its dormant production line to start building the metal housing for the Dyson design.

The company has delivered prototypes of the steel housing to Dyson already.

JCB said it received a direct approach from the Prime Minister to help with the effort earlier this month - and chairman Lord Bamford promised assistance.

Lord Bamford said: "This project has gone from design to production in just a matter of days and I am delighted that we have been to deploy the skills of our talented engineering, design and fabrication teams so quickly at a time of national crisis.

  • An intensive care doctor working in Cambridge explains how a mechanical ventilator works

He continued: "This is also a global crisis, of course, and we will naturally help with the production of more housings if these ventilators are eventually required by other countries."

Mass production of the housings could start at its re-purposed cab production line in Uttoxeter, "in a matter of days" according to JCB.

While defence engineering firm Babcock is working with a leading medical equipment company on plans to design and build its own critical care ventilators.

The Mercedes F1 team has joined forces with University College London to create CPAP devices. Credit: David Davies/PA

Elsewhere University College London (UCL) worked with clinicians at University College London Hospitals NHS trust (UCLH) and the Mercedes Formula One racing team to build devices that get oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator.

The continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices - used in adults, children and premature babies - are already employed in hospitals.

Technicians reverse engineered a device and made improvements with the first tranche of 100 now being delivered to UCLH for clinical trials before a wider roll-out.

If all goes well, up to 1,000 CPAP devices could be produced by Mercedes with production getting underway in a week's time.

The device has already been approved for use by regulator, the MHRA.

Business and industry minister Nadhim Zahawi said the consortium reflected "the very best of British engineering and manufacturing."

Adding: "It will be key in our efforts to ramp up ventilator capacity and overcome coronavirus.

"Over the coming weeks I will be working closely with the consortium as part of our shared ambition to protect our NHS and save lives.

"Over 3,000 companies answered the Prime Minister's call for ventilator production and their help will be vital as we make our way through this turbulent period."

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