Ventilator Challenge UK: Over 13,000 Ventilators Manufactured In Just 15 Weeks

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with eight years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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This year has brought unprecedented challenges into the world as we continue to tackle a global pandemic. Covid-19 has resulted in over 534,000 deaths worldwide at the time of writing, and brought entire countries to a standstill overnight as many went into lockdown. Prior to the start of the UK's own lockdown on the 24th March 2020, the Ventilator Challenge began - a consortium of some of the biggest names in UK manufacturing, who switched their efforts to producing ventilators in a bid to tackle the national shortage in light of increased demand.

You may remember that we wrote an article calling for UK manufacturers and engineers to join or assist the consortium shortly before the lockdown took effect. Four months later, we're now very pleased to report that the Ventilator Challenge was a huge success. 

READ: UK Manufacturing Industry to Help Fight the Covid-19 Pandemic

What Was the Ventilator Challenge?

The result was an astounding collaboration of manufacturing companies, who between them produced a total of 13,437 life-saving units. 

With many of the most severely-affected coronavirus patients requiring ventilation, it was clear at the start of the pandemic that the UK did not have enough ventilators to treat the projected number of people who would need them. Subsequently, on the 19th March 2020, the Ventilator Challenge was launched by the UK government to help meet the shortfalls in capacity. The result was an astounding collaboration of automotive, aerospace, healthcare and technology companies, along with various Formula 1 teams, who between them produced a total of 13,437 life-saving units. 

In a somewhat poetic twist of fate, the last shipment of ventilators under the Ventilator Challenge was made from medical device manufacturer Penlon on 5th July 2020 - the NHS's 72nd birthday. What's more, the final shipment was of 72 ventilators - a fitting tribute to the NHS in a very challenging year, marking the end of the consortium.

Ventilator Challenge UK - Who Was Involved?

With a heavy aerospace presence, companies such as Airbus, BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace, Meggitt and Thales were all involved, whilst a number of prestigious automotive manufacturers such as Ford, Rolls Royce and Vauxhall either directly assisted with the manufacture of ventilators, or supplied parts on a second-tier basis.

The Ventilator Challenge also incorporated a number of Formula 1 teams including McLaren, Haas, Red Bull, Williams and Renault, not to mention medical and healthcare companies such as Unilever, Penlon, Siemers Healthineers and Inspire Healthcare. 

This is only a very small cross-section of the total number of companies who were involved in the Ventilator Challenge. The Ventilator Challenge brought together manufacturers from all corners of the industry and a range of different vertical markets to fulfil a vast quota within a comparatively small timeframe.

Ramping Up Production:

Ventilator manufacturers Penlon and Smiths Medica were able to ramp up production to almost thirty times their normal capacity.

Due to the expansive reach of the Ventilator Challenge consortium, ventilator manufacturers Penlon and Smiths Medical - who were both key manufacturing assets within the consortium - were able to ramp up production to almost thirty times their normal capacity. In a statement given on the 2nd April 2020, Ventilator Challenge leader Dick Elsy, who serves as CEO of High Value Manufacturing Catapult, explained that combined, both companies usually have capacity to manufacture 50-60 ventilators per week; however, with the assistance of the consortium at large, their combined targeted capacity increased to 1500 ventilators per week. This figure provides tangible insight into the scale of the consortium and the rate at which the ventilators were manufactured to meet the UK government's own targets.

The complexity and intricacy of a ventilator, coupled with the need for a fully-functioning unit and minimal-to-zero error margins, makes these figures all the more impressive to behold. Within three weeks of its creation, the consortium had ramped up production to produce over 13,000 ventilators in the following twelve weeks, whereas the setup of such large-scale production facilities alone would normally exceed the entire 15 week lifespan of Ventilator Challenge UK.

Between the thirty-three companies within the Ventilator Challenge consortium, over 5,500 people assisted with continuous, around-the-clock production of ventilators to meet the target - the level of manpower necessary for the consortium's success.

READ: Covid-19: When Are the UK's Exhibitions Taking Place?

Ventilator Challenge UK - A Crowning Achievement:

This incredible achievement has showcased the strengths of the UK manufacturing industry, whom the responsibility has fallen to to address the chinks in the NHS's armour under the unprecedented conditions that 2020 has brought with it. Indeed, it can't be disputed that the events of the last few months have been tragic at worst and challenging at best, but the resilience and perseverance of the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium truly is a legacy for the UK manufacturing industry to be proud of.

Thanks to their tireless efforts, the NHS will now have the resources it desperately needs to avoid becoming overwhelmed in future; in the unfortunate event that we find ourselves faced with a second wave of Covid-19, the UK will now be better prepared to provide an abundance of patients with life-saving treatment.

Huge congratulations to everyone involved!


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