AMRC Cymru: From game changer to life saver

Posted on 5 May 2020 by Jonny Williamson

Six months after being hailed a ‘game changer’ for the North Wales economy, the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru is playing an essential role as a production facility for thousands of vital medical ventilators.

The new Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Cymru, officially opened in November 2019,  is a cutting-edge innovation centre that provides businesses with access to advanced technologies, helping them to drive improvements in productivity, performance and quality.

Situated in the Deeside Enterprise Zone, close to the Airbus wing-manufacturing plant in Broughton, the centre builds on the region’s strong industrial base and focuses on advanced manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, automotive, nuclear and food.

The new AMRC centre in Broughton, North Wales.

Backed by £20m from the Welsh Government, AMRC Cymru is the first High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult location opened in Wales and is forecast to increase increase GVA to the Welsh economy by as much as £4bn over the next 20 years.

Turning AMRC Cymru into a production facility for ventilators was suggested on the very day (March 16) Boris Johnson first called on manufacturers to help mass-produce the equipment following the outbreak of Covid-19.

What followed was a week and a half of confusion as to what was being asked of businesses. At the same time,  the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium narrowed down which design/s they would progress.

Under the leadership of the HVM Catapult, of which the AMRC and the Nuclear AMRC are a part, the industrial consortium is focusing production on two existing ventilator designs which meet the high-level specification, one made by Penlon and the other by Smiths Medical.

AMRC Cymru’s role in the ventilator project became real on March 26, according to its research director, Andy Silcox; “That was the day we were chosen to be involved in the manufacture of the Penlon device. We are the venue for the manufacture of two key sub-assemblies: the absorber and the flow meter units.”

Now authorised by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for use in hospitals, following extensive testing, the government has confirmed an order for 15,000 Penlon devices. Hundreds of units were built in the first few days, with production now being further scaled up.

Andy explains: “There are eight assembly lines for each sub-assembly, requiring 88 operators per shift. There are two shifts a day, with everyone working in a four days on, four days off pattern. That means 352 shop floor staff; add in the office, logistics, security and cleaning staff and it takes the full complement to around 500.”

The logistical problems alone would have been challenging enough, but became extremely complicated while adhering to strict health and safety guidelines, Andy continues: “Not only did we have to strip out an R&D facility to install 16 new productions lines from scratch in less than a fortnight, we also needed to create an environment where 88 operators could work simultaneously while maintaining safe social distancing.

AMRC Cymru producing life-saving ventilators - image 3

“We’ve made real use of our modelling and simulation capability. Our engineer Xuan Sheng Tie created a model in Process Simulate to safely control operator movements around the facility to allow us to organise shift breaks and lunch times to suit what we have on the shop floor.”

Andy says it has been an incredible team effort from staff across the AMRC: “We limited it to myself and Matt [Booth, AMRC Cymru’s workshop manager] to minimise the infection risk across both the AMRC and Airbus but we have unbelievable support.

“Chris Garlick at the University of Sheffield’s estates team has arranged 24/7 cleaning, security and maintenance cover for the building throughout the production period, which we anticipate to last up to four months. Then there are all the other members of our team in particular Xuan, Bobby Manesh, Michelle Hibbert and Harri Williams who have been supporting Matt and myself.”

The Manufacturer has created a continually updated list of every UK manufacturing and engineering buisnesses helping to produce PPE and equipment for NHS workers –click here to view it.

*All images courtesy of AMRC Cymru