How one SME pivoted its operation in a matter of weeks to support the NHS

Posted on 27 Aug 2020 by Jonny Williamson

The story of how one Midlands-based manufacturer adapted quickly to a national need and created 500 jobs in the process.

When the UK went into lockdown, Ramfoam’s management team felt the effects on their business almost overnight.

As a market-leading specialist in the conversion of foam products, the company works closely with many of the sectors that have been among the hardest hit, including aviation, automotive, hospitality and retail.

Like many other manufacturers and processers, Ramfoam was faced with the titanic challenge of quickly adapting.

The senior team knew immediately that they wanted to support the NHS, particularly amid a pressing shortage of PPE products – so they quickly joined the ranks of the 16,000 other businesses who applied to support the government’s request.

Ramfoam already has significant experience in converting medical-grade foam products for the healthcare market in numerous applications, so at the beginning of April 2020, led by their International Director, Tim Mulqueen, their research began.

The design brief for their team consisted of four basic elements; to create a visor that was manufactured from modern British materials, with the least number of components possible (just two), to allow easy self-assembly in seconds using replaceable and recyclable components, and to create high-volume production capabilities.

After an intensive period of design and testing, the team was able to develop the RamfoamCare+ Protective Visor in a matter of weeks.

With a fully developed product, an immediate patent for part of the design was sought and subsequently CE approved.

In May 2020, Ramfoam was  awarded a contract from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to produce three million RamfoamCare+ Face Visors per week.

“Never has Ramfoam faced a challenge on this scale,” said Tim Mulqueen. “Developing a new product for market normally takes a great deal of time, but we were able to design and develop the product, source suppliers, patent the design and get it certified within just five weeks.”

Tim believes several factors played a role in allowing Ramfoam to mobilise so quickly; its multi-skilled workforce had already taken part in a reskilling process before COVID hit, which meant they held a comprehensive skills matrix in-house.

This was quickly supplemented by the creation of more than 500 jobs throughout the Midlands and London, both at Ramfoam’s PPE manufacturing facility and throughout its wider supply chain.

Ramfoam had previously invested heavily in the automation of some of their equipment, including press machinery and wrapping, which meant it was able to ramp up production quickly.

Additionally, it has invested in new processes and a dedicated facility in excess of 100,000 sqft, alongside existing manufacturing sites, in order to reach the three million visors required by the DHSC each week.

Finally, the support of Warwick Manufacturing Group’s High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, along with the team from the Department for Business (BEIS) added significant value by helping Ramfoam with factory modelling, mapping and automation.

WMG assembled a team to support Ramfoam on this journey, using their Digital Innovation for Manufacturing project to support a highly ambitious scale-up plan. WMG’s use of 3D shop floor simulations helped Ramfoam to test its layout and process assumptions digitally, prior to moving into a new facility, which – along with the help of Nissan Motors UK – enabled Ramfoam to de-risk scale up plans.

Now that production is fully underway, Ramfoam is looking to widen its offering alongside the DHSC contract by making the visors commercially available across the UK.