Four manic weeks

1 min read

At the beginning of March, life in the UK was still close to normal, albeit with heightened awareness of Covid-19’s threat and approach, plus a focus on hand-washing. But from Monday, 16 through into mid-April as peak announced hospital deaths approached, there was frenetic activity within UK manufacturing. This was evident all the way from top-level OEMs, right through the multiple tiers of the supply chain network on which they draw. Within Machinery’s sphere of interest, it was ventilators and personal protection equipment (PPE – most typically face shields/visors) that were the top-line products spurring action. The urgency during this period was driven by the looming possibility of too many patients and not enough equipment, most critically the availability of ventilators. We capture here the mood of those four key weeks

The NHS started out with 5,900 ventilators, with the government widely reported as having requested a further 30,000 following a Monday, 16 March request for industrial help, although in an article of Sunday, 5 April, The Guardian had this: “The sheer scale of the challenge is one reason why the government has put in place orders that would lead to the delivery of at least 61,000 machines [ventilators] – far more than are supposedly required []." And on Monday,

6 April, Machinery was told that the AMRC understood that the VentilatorChallengeUK effort was a 50,000-unit affair – the AMRC being part of the government's High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) network that led VentilatorChallengeUK. That challenge was focused on two existing designs, one each from Penlon and Smiths Medical. Of course, there was the Dyson ventilator design, the GTech design and numerous others that appeared in the UK during this period, let alone globally, with some designs made available free, including GTEch’s. But it was VentilatorChallengeUK that was the main game, albeit that even by 21 April, only 250 had been delivered by this consortium, reported

The Guardian ( – the UK passed the peak of announced hospital deaths on 21 April, peak UK new cases was on 19 April.

So, taking that 61,000 figure, it is no surprise that it seemed that a very large number of component suppliers were pitching in to help the top level VentilatorChallengeUK consortium. In fact, that same 21 April newspaper report highlighted that the consortium had received government backing to buy 11m components.

In turn, metal component makers called upon material, cutting tool, workholding and machine tool suppliers to help them gear up to produce, with tales of responses within hours common. Weekend working was widely undertaken.

For face shields, the 3D printer came into its own, with 3D-printing bureaux, printer manufacturers and suppliers, together with individuals with their own home units, all stepping up to produce them by, collectively, the thousand. Even the Royal Mint set itself up to make visors, not by 3D printing it has to be said. Again, online designs were made freely available to support a global effort.

Read the full story here.