UK manufacturers respond to crisis ventilator call

Posted on 16 Mar 2020 by Jonny Williamson

As you'd expect, UK manufacturers have responded positively to the government's call for help making ventilators. But it will be by no means a simple task.

Lord Anthony Bamford of JCB was quick out of the blocks in his response to the government’s call for help in building more ventilators to treat COVID-19 sufferers.

“We have been approached by the Prime Minister to see if we can help with the production of ventilators.

Lord Anthony Bamford, chairman, JCB.
Lord Anthony Bamford, chairman, JCB.

“We have research and engineering teams actively looking at the request at the moment. It’s unclear as yet if we can assist, but as a British company, we will do whatever we can to help during the unprecedented times our country is facing.”

The cautionary words there are “It’s unclear as yet if we can assist.”

Robert Harrison, Professor of Automation Systems, at WMG, University of Warwick, says it will be a significant challenge for UK engineering companies to manufacture ventilators.

“JCB, Rolls Royce or others could potentially manufacture ventilators. They have relevant skills and capabilities, but given that all the design and manufacturing related information could be supplied to them, getting the parts and the tooling to manufacture such a thing will be a significant task, perhaps taking many months.

“They would have to tool up production lines and train workers to assemble and test the product. Sourcing the parts, e.g., electronics, valves and air-turbines, quickly could be difficult.

“These are sophisticated devices. It is crucial that they work correctly in order to keep the patient alive, as these are life-critical pieces of equipment.”

Positive responses

One company that has been in touch with government via [email protected] is GB Electronics (UK) Ltd., a design-led manufacturing company, based in Sussex.

The company has four SMT lines and nine conventional assembly lines, based over two sites, with 47 employees in total. It already makes medical devices for  the NHS – BloodTrack, sold via Haemonetics Inc.

It also manufactures for Pall Corporation through its Life Sciences division, so have experience with working to a strict QMS which is audited to ISO13485.

Mark Bullen MD of GB Electronics
Mark Bullen MD of GB Electronics

MD Mark Bullen said they would clear their production lines for any product that stands a chance of meeting the government’s need.

“I realise there may be some technical challenges to get a line up and running,” he told The Manufacturer, “but we do have a very diversified portfolio of products, plus a team of design engineers.

“We pride ourselves on both our fast-turnaround and innovative approach to problem solving. We have a large mixture of high value, low volume, complex build products. A ventilator would certainly fit within that category.

Our area of expertise is in, primarily, electronic component sourcing, PCB assembly (surface mount and conventional), final product assembly and test.”

You can reach Mark via email. [email protected]

We’re keen to hear more from UK manufacturers responding to the government’s call, via Twitter or via The Manufacturer Community. Or email the Editorial team.