UK Aerospace Collaborates For COVID-19 Ventilator Manufacturing

Some of the biggest names in UK aerospace have joined an industrial consortium with British Formula One motor racing teams to urgently manufacturer medical ventilators to treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

Airbus, BAE Systems GKN, Meggitt, Rolls-Royce, Smiths and Thales have joined the UK’s Ventilator Challenge to design and produce the Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System (“RMVS”) developed by clinicians and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (“MHRA”). The consortium, led by Dick Elsy, head of the UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult, has already received orders for 10,000 of the devices from the British government.

The consortium was established following a British government call to industry for the rapid production of the devices, which can help treat patients whose lungs have been attacked by the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Britain’s National Health Service has around 5,000 ventilators, fewer than many of its European neighbors and is buying more off the international market to meet expected shortfalls. 

The number of people being hospitalized with the virus is expected to peak over the coming two to three weeks. 

The consortium has already taken steps to evaluate the design, manufacturing, assembly and testing of the ventilator and its components. The device uses existing technologies and can be assembled from materials and parts in current production. Regulatory authorities have been involved in the development, and the consortium expects a “very prompt regulatory sign off,” following final audits, with production beginning in the coming days.

“This consortium brings together some of the most innovative companies in the world,” Elsy said. “They are working together with incredible determination and energy to scale up production of much-needed ventilators and combat a virus that is affecting people in many countries. I am confident this consortium has the skills and tools to make a difference and save lives.”

BAE Systems said it would support the challenge by “providing integrated, tested subsystems and components,” an approach that makes use of the company’s “project management and engineering skills, while saving significant time during final assembly of the ventilators.”

The efforts by aerospace in the UK mirror those in other parts of Europe. In Italy, Leonardo is 3D-printing valves for a modified snorkeling mask that has been adapted into a respirator mask for patients. The valve connects the modified mask to the hospital oxygen supply. Meanwhile in France and Spain, Airbus is producing 3D-printed visors for use by medical staff treating COVID-19 patients in those countries. Some 20 3D printers are being used by the company at its Getafe site near Madrid to produce the visor frames. Work on the frames continues despite a Spanish government decree that has sent many Spanish Airbus workers home until April 9. 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.