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VentilatorChallengeUK wins RAEng Presidentís Special Award for Pandemic Service

Posted 17 August 2020 · Add Comment

The Royal Academy of Engineering has awarded 19 individuals and teams of engineers with the President's Special Awards for Pandemic Service for exceptional engineering achievements in tackling COVID-19 throughout the UK, including VentilatorChallengeUK.

The awards have been made to teams, organisations, individuals, collaborations and projects across all technical specialities, disciplines and career stages within the UK engineering community who have contributed to addressing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specially commissioned silver medals will be presented to all 19 winners later this year.

Above: The President's Special Awards for Pandemic Services.
Courtesy GKN Aerospace

The winners are:

  • VentilatorChallengeUK. Dick Elsy CBE led the initiative to combine the knowledge and skills of 33 UK technology and engineering businesses across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors, to produce more than 13,000 Smiths and Penlon ventilator devices for the NHS.
  • University College London-Ventura CPAP breathing aids were developed by a team led by Professor Rebecca Shipley working with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. The team manufactured 10,000 breathing aids for use in UK hospitals and shared the designs with organisations from 105 other countries at no cost.
  • University of Cambridge Open Ventilator System Initiative team led by Dr Tashiv Ramsander developed a high-performance ventilator for manufacture in low and middle-income countries that became the first intensive care quality ventilator to be manufactured in Africa.
  • University of Southampton for PeRSo. The engineering team developed the Personal Respirator Southampton, a respirator for healthcare workers providing a much higher level of protection than surgical masks.
  • Babcock International Group Plc for the rapid development and manufacture of a new medical ventilator product, Zephyr Plus, coordinated across several major companies in the UK and Germany, with 39 suppliers and MoD logistics.
  • Jean Morris and a team of young engineers from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) took a central role in building and testing prototype ventilators against a developing MHRA specification.
  • Dr Antony Robotham at the University of Plymouth, who designed an environmentally friendly face shield, manufactured from recycled materials that are compostable or recyclable at the end of life.
  • Dr Dominic Pimenta is a cardiology registrar at one of London’s busiest hospitals who led the design and manufacture of face shields with the team at Makerversity for frontline NHS and care home staff. His charity, HEROES, has produced 100,000 reusable face shields as well as thousands of reusable gowns and scrubs.
  • Institute for Manufacturing University of Cambridge. The IfM team helped local hospitals to make the best use of their resources, streamlining logistics for sourcing and storing vital PPE, informing decision-making on emergency demand, and developing a ventilator sharing system to be used in emergencies.
  • Tharsus for Bump, a social-distancing system providing real-time alerts when wearers get too close. Led by CEO Brian Palmer FREng and CTO Dave Swan, the technology’s smart data insights inform rapid decision making, allowing employers to maximise workplace capacity and providing data on team contact in the event of an outbreak.
  • Dr Ravi Solanki and Raymond Siems, volunteers for the charity HEROES. In less than two days, their team turned an idea into a platform with genuine impact: a secure website through which more than 543,000 items of much-needed support have been provided to NHS workers, from sustainable PPE to counselling services and child care.
  • Professor Chris Toumazou FREng FRS FMedSci of Imperial College London for developing a rapid, affordable COVID-19 test based on a lab in a cartridge technology that provides test results in just over an hour. A total of 5.8 million tests are now being deployed throughout NHS in preparation for the flu season.
  • Professor Zhanfeng Cui FREng and his team from the University of Oxford for the Oxford rapid viral RNA test for COVID-19. It can detect SARS-CoV-2 infection in 30 minutes and could be invaluable in developing countries because no specialist equipment is needed.
  • Professor Harris Makatsoris from King’s College London for developing a ‘factory-in-a-box’ that allows the rapid manufacture of synthetic RNA vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and minimises the space required for high-volume vaccine production.
  • Professor Catherine Noakes from the University of Leeds for her role in advising the NHS and the government at the highest level during the pandemic, shaping life-saving guidance based on her expertise in environmental and engineering controls.
  • Sewers4COVID from the University of Exeter: a team led by Professor Dragan Savic FREng applied machine learning to sewer epidemiology to estimate the number of infected people in a certain geographical area to track the spread of infection.
  • BOC Customer Engineering Services, who maintained the oxygen supplies to treat COVID-19 patients across the UK. BOC engineers set up oxygen systems at six Nightingale centres, including the largest medical oxygen system ever installed.
  • Matt Benson, Elliot Dervish and Jonathan Parker of Teledyne-e2v, who developed and manufactured the Handy Hook for front line NHS staff across Essex and London, to limit their interaction with surfaces carrying the virus.
  • Martyn Frackelton and Ian Watkins from Mott MacDonald, who project managed both NHS Nightingale London and NHS Nightingale North West, enabling the massive field hospitals to care for patients within two weeks of being announced.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest public health crisis of our time and has presented society with multiple challenges. Engineering expertise and innovation has been central to the global fight to save lives and protect livelihoods.

“I am also incredibly proud of engineers everywhere who have worked round the clock to maintain essential services, critical supply chains and infrastructure in unprecedented circumstances, using their training and skills to find innovative solutions to a host of problems and to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives.”

Professor Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE, Chair of the Academy’s Awards Committee, said: “Engineering skills—including innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration—have proved to be of vital importance during the current pandemic. We were delighted that the breadth of nominations for these awards reflected so much of the extraordinary work engineers have been doing.

“While I am delighted that we are able to recognise some of these outstanding achievements with these awards I am mindful that the important work of the vast majority of engineers will remain largely outside the public’s consciousness. They are all deserving of our thanks and admiration for their continuing positive contribution to society.”
Early in the development of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, it was feared there may not be enough ventilators to treat the projected number of seriously ill patients. VentilatorChallengeUK was formed to rapidly produce ventilators for the NHS and the 33-strong Consortium brought together UK engineering businesses from across the aerospace, motorsport, automotive and medical sectors to build 13,437 ventilators for the NHS.

Medical ventilators are complex, multi-component units that must function perfectly in use. The aim was to scale-up, at incredible scale and pace, the production of two devices. One was an existing design made by Smiths Medical, the paraPAC plus, and the other was a new design based on existing technology from Oxfordshire-based Penlon.

Engineers identified that a hybrid device, modifying existing proven clinical equipment, would meet the requirements of the UK Government and NHS and could be rapidly manufactured, creating the Penlon ESO 2 Emergency Ventilator. The UK’s urgent need for this device saw the Consortium establish new production sites at speed while restructuring Penlon to keep pace with this industrial might. The Airbus wing factory in Broughton became aspirator assembly facilities and Ford Motor Company’s iconic Dagenham site in east London was converted to making the ventilator sub-assembly with new production lines capable of delivering the highest quality medical devices in weeks.

A 3,500 strong front-line assembly team was drawn from other sectors and trained to work at seven large-scale manufacturing operations across sites in the UK at Ford, Airbus, STI, McLaren, Rolls-Royce and GKN Aerospace in Cowes and Luton. The teams, using digital design software from Siemens, learned to adapt to the new age of social distancing and balance the twin imperatives of speedy delivery with absolute adherence to the regulatory standards needed to ensure patient safety.

The Consortium, with consultancy from Siemens Healthineers, achieved full MHRA approval for the Penlon ESO 2 device in just three weeks and it also secured an internationally recognised CE Certificate, allowing it to stay on market in the UK, at hospitals or in storage, for up to 10 years and allowing Penlon to support other countries in vulnerable situations with emergency ventilator devices.

When the government placed an order for Smiths ParaPAC units, it became clear that vital test boxes could not be obtained. These test boxes were ‘one-offs’ using old tech and obsolete parts which were no longer in production. To overcome this critical hurdle, engineers at McLaren reverse engineered them by painstakingly modelling every component in 3D CAD to piece together a full specification for each test box and begin the procurement process. In April alone, the team worked the equivalent of more than 6½ years, delivering 144 test boxes of 13 different types.

In the midst of a global pandemic the Consortium set up new parallel supply chains and acquired around 42 million parts and electronic components through a complex logistics network. Despite global competition for parts and lockdown challenges the team sourced parts from over 22 countries. The Formula 1 supply base went from buying or manufacturing parts for the summer season’s F1 races to high volume ventilator parts at lightning speed and quality.

Thanks to the remarkable efforts of the whole Consortium, led by CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and the VentilatorChallengeUK Chairman Dick Elsy CBE, the Consortium delivered 13,437 ventilators, more than doubling the stock available to the NHS. On the Penlon device workstream alone, 20 years’ worth of ventilators were produced in 12 weeks and peak production exceeded 400 devices a day.

Dr Graham Hoare OBE FREng, Executive Director of Business Transformation and Chairman of Ford in Britain, said: “It was a wild ride for the leaders of these companies. They took the reins and stopped at nothing to bring the plan to life and inspire the teams to excel. The companies provided everything that could be asked for and more including teams of exceptionally talented volunteer engineers and technicians to turn these ideas and concepts into reality in the blink of an eye.”

Dick Elsy, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, said: “This coalition of the very best of this country’s people and capability across different sectors has truly showcased the strength of the manufacturing industry in the UK. While we have now delivered all the ventilators our NHS needed, the Consortium is looking to capture lessons learned and share them across the engineering community – and with Government – as key tools to help UK industry get back on its feet after the COVID19 pandemic has passed.”

The President’s Special Awards for Pandemic Service were overseen by the Academy’s Awards Committee, which identifies winners for all of the Academy’s prizes and awards (with the exception of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering and the MacRobert Award for UK Engineering Innovation).



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