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The inside story of how a group of rival companies came together to make ventilators for the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic

Overview

Our Mission

Some of the leading companies in the world, including Ford, McLaren, BAE, GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, Unilever and Airbus, changed their businesses overnight and came together to build ventilators for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). They were working on two designs – one from Smiths Group, the other from Penlon. Their collaboration was powered by Microsoft technologies.

It was an unprecedented project; one that required more than 30 of the UK’s biggest companies, the best minds and the latest, cutting-edge technology.

The companies involved in the consortium include:

  • Airbus
  • BAE Systems
  • Ford
  • GKN Aerospace
  • High Value Manufacturing Catapult
  • Inspiration Healthcare
  • Meggitt
  • Penlon
  • Renishaw
  • Rolls-Royce
  • Siemens
  • Smiths Group
  • Thales
  • Ultra Electronics
  • Unilever
  • UK-based F1 teams Haas F1, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Racing Point, Renault Sport Racing and Williams

Enablers of the consortium include:

  • Arrow Electronics
  • Accenture
  • Avanade
  • Dell Electronics
  • Microsoft
  • PTC

Cutting-Edge Technology

Each of these tools played a critical role as the consortium ordered parts to build the ventilators, construct them at sites across the country and send them to the frontlines of the NHS. HoloLens, Microsoft’s mixed-reality headset, allowed assembly line staff to see holograms of how parts fitted together and make hands-free video calls to experts while they were working – a feature called Dynamics 365 Remote Assist. Just by using voice commands and hand gestures, they could bring up a virtual screen that hovered in front of them, displaying a live stream of someone with knowledge of the ventilators, wherever they were in the world.

That was critical for 2,500 engineers who had spent their careers building products such as cars but now had to switch to assembling medical equipment overnight.

Every piece of technology had to be simple to use for the members of VentilatorChallengeUK because time was constantly against them. Every day in the UK, thousands of people were catching Coronavirus and hundreds were dying.

Working with Partners

Avanade, a Microsoft partner, helped the consortium set up the technology, building a Dynamics 365 Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in two weeks that could manage all the parts, ship them and bill them. “This project was a showcase of speed, acceleration and breaking with tradition, combined with thinking a bit differently,” says Chris Bingham, the Lead on Avanade’s VentilatorChallengeUK work.

Working with Partners

Avanade, a Microsoft partner, helped the consortium set up the technology, building a Dynamics 365 Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in two weeks that could manage all the parts, ship them and bill them. “This project was a showcase of speed, acceleration and breaking with tradition, combined with thinking a bit differently,” says Chris Bingham, the Lead on Avanade’s VentilatorChallengeUK work.

On the production side, we are building 400 ventilators a day. What would normally take six months was taking a day. We achieved over 20 years of normal production in just 12 weeks.
Mark Mathieson
Lead Partner for Technical Services at McLaren Racing

While speed was important, the finished products also had to be perfectly made in line with strict specifications set by clinicians and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

To help the consortium, Avanade called on teams from around the world to create a network of support that ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The company worked with Microsoft and Accenture to create a supply chain for components to be bought, tracked and paid for. Avanade also built a “control tower” dashboard that gave one source of truth for all the companies involved in the consortium.

Stuart Lee runs the Azure centre of excellence for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Avanade. “We ensured that someone who didn’t know what HoloLens was could just pick it up and turn it on, and it did what it needed to do,” he says. “If anyone needed help we had resources in the UK, Germany, Holland, New York, Seattle, Florida, Washington and Toronto in Canada. All these teams in different countries were focused on helping the UK make ventilators for the NHS. Everyone wanted to help because they felt it might be their family or someone they cared about that might need one of these ventilators.”

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As part of the training workstream, Microsoft and its partners were key to building mixed reality training tools that would be deployed rapidly. Martine pointed out that “PTC played a vital role within the consortium with their Vuforia Expert Capture app. The ability to move from paper-based instructions to provide digital step-by-step instructions that could be viewed on a mobile or tablet form factor, has been important to sharing knowledge quickly.”

That was not only crucial for the people on the assembly lines, going through 190 separate steps to build a ventilator. It was also important for managers on the project, who had to ensure the assembly lines were efficient, staff were kept safe, the right parts were ordered and sent to the right place at the right time, and completed ventilators reached the frontlines of the NHS.

As part of the training workstream, Microsoft and its partners were key to building mixed reality training tools that would be deployed rapidly. Martine pointed out that “PTC played a vital role within the consortium with their Vuforia Expert Capture app. The ability to move from paper-based instructions to provide digital step-by-step instructions that could be viewed on a mobile or tablet form factor, has been important to sharing knowledge quickly.”

That was not only crucial for the people on the assembly lines, going through 190 separate steps to build a ventilator. It was also important for managers on the project, who had to ensure the assembly lines were efficient, staff were kept safe, the right parts were ordered and sent to the right place at the right time, and completed ventilators reached the frontlines of the NHS.

As part of the training workstream, Microsoft and its partners were key to building mixed reality training tools that would be deployed rapidly. Martine pointed out that “PTC played a vital role within the consortium with their Vuforia Expert Capture app. The ability to move from paper-based instructions to provide digital step-by-step instructions that could be viewed on a mobile or tablet form factor, has been important to sharing knowledge quickly.”

That was not only crucial for the people on the assembly lines, going through 190 separate steps to build a ventilator. It was also important for managers on the project, who had to ensure the assembly lines were efficient, staff were kept safe, the right parts were ordered and sent to the right place at the right time, and completed ventilators reached the frontlines of the NHS.

The VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, working day and night, has undoubtedly saved lives during one of the most uncertain and dangerous periods in modern history. But while the lockdown is beginning to end, the consortium’s work is not. In May 2020, Dick Elsey, Chief Executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Chairman of VentilatorChallengeUK, marked two months of the consortium by saying:

“Although the UK is widely accepted to have passed the peak of infections in this first phase of the pandemic, we are continuing to scale up our production capabilities to make sure that there is always a ventilator available when a patient needs it should a second wave strike the UK. I look forward to seeing VentilatorChallengeUK deliver even more ventilators over the coming weeks.”

Workers celebrate the first Penlon ventilators heading to the NHS

The VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, working day and night, has undoubtedly saved lives during one of the most uncertain and dangerous periods in modern history. But while the lockdown is beginning to end, the consortium’s work is not. In May 2020, Dick Elsey, Chief Executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Chairman of VentilatorChallengeUK, marked two months of the consortium by saying:

“Although the UK is widely accepted to have passed the peak of infections in this first phase of the pandemic, we are continuing to scale up our production capabilities to make sure that there is always a ventilator available when a patient needs it should a second wave strike the UK. I look forward to seeing VentilatorChallengeUK deliver even more ventilators over the coming weeks.”

Workers celebrate the first Penlon ventilators heading to the NHS

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