In the early stages of the pandemic in mid-March, the Government announced its national ventilator challenge to industry, asking us to help ramp up the production of ventilators. At the end of March, the Government indicated that up to 30,000 ventilators were required, so we wanted to do everything possible to help reach this number and protect lives.
As well as joining the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, which we continue to support, a team in our Applied Intelligence business in Guildford, under the leadership of Mark Bennett, Strategy Director, Government, came up with an innovative idea for an entirely new ventilator. This was to be built from readily available parts that could be rapidly manufactured.
The team started work immediately, joining forces with Intersurgical, already a leading provider of respiratory products to the NHS.
Following input from senior NHS clinicians it became apparent that this ventilator design was suited to treat COVID-19, so our Chief Technology Officer, Ben Hudson, stepped in to help bring together the wider engineering and manufacturing skills across BAE Systems.
With Ben’s help, our Maritime Services business offered its high-tech electronic manufacturing expertise in Broad Oak, Portsmouth and Hillend, near Edinburgh, creating a production process that would allow us to build more than 1,000 units per week. Within three weeks, the production line in Portsmouth was ready and our employees were proudly starting to build multiple units of the AirCare ventilator.
As the project progressed it became clear that some additional specialist skills and capabilities were needed. Our Air team based in Lancashire joined the project, providing specialist engineering support while also using their industrial-scale 3D printers - which are also printing PPE for frontline health workers - to print hundreds of new ventilator parts. These parts were flown directly from our site in Warton to the production line in Portsmouth.
In just a few weeks, our team had gone from concept through design and development, and were ready to begin rapidly producing ventilators. By mid-April AirCare had completed initial technical testing.
Mercifully, and in no small part because of the British public’s strict adherence to Government advice on social distancing, ventilators have not been required in the numbers originally estimated.
While the AirCare ventilator will not being going into large-scale production for the immediate UK response to COVID-19, it is a clear testament to the ingenuity of our people and the innovation within our business. We are proud to have played our part in responding to the call for help from the Government and stand by to help further in any way we can.
AirCare was designed to the MHRA's specification for the NHS to treat COVID-19 patients, and features a control module and a limited-use ‘Inspirator’ module.
The engineers behind the AirCare design work in BAE Systems’ Applied Intelligence (AI) business in Guildford, where their day job is to support various parts of Government solve complex technical problems. The AI engineers were ably supported by our Maritime Services engineering team who helped transition the design into a production ready state. In addition to this core team, staff were seconded from Naval Ships and the Air Sector to support with specialist skills in systems engineering and test and evaluation. Employees from the Maritime Services business in Hillend, near Edinburgh, worked on sophisticated circuit boards and electronics for the ventilator, while their colleagues in Broad Oak, Portsmouth, who normally manufacture radars and torpedoes, led the supply chain activities and set up the high-volume production capability that is capable of producing over 1,000 units per week.
All this was completed in less than one month, a testament to the capabilities of BAE Systems and to the staff who worked on and supported our AirCare project.