The Prime Minister is calling for British manufacturers, including Unipart Group, JCB and Rolls Royce, to support production of essential medical equipment for the NHS. He stressed the vital role of Britain’s manufacturers in preparing the country for a significant spread of coronavirus and called on them to step up and support the nationwide effort to fight the virus.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Preparing for the spread of the coronavirus outbreak is a national priority and we’re calling on the manufacturing industry and all those with relevant expertise who might be able to help to come together to help the country tackle this national crisis. We need to step up production of vital equipment such as ventilators so that we can all help the most vulnerable, and we need businesses to come to us and help in this national effort.”
But Robert Harrison, Professor of Automation Systems, at WMG, University of Warwick, warned that while it was possible, outsourcing the manufacture of ventilators to others wouldn’t be easy.
He said: “JCB, Rolls Royce or others could potentially manufacture ventilators. They have relevant skills and capabilities but given that all the design and manufacturing-related information could be supplied to them, getting the parts and the tooling to manufacture such a thing will be a significant task, perhaps taking many months.
“They would have to tool up production lines and train workers to assemble and test the product. Sourcing the parts such as the electronics, valves and air-turbines, quickly could be difficult.
“It is crucial that they work correctly in order to keep the patient alive, as these are life-critical, sophisticated pieces of equipment.”
There is also the issue of whether the makers of ventilators and other critical equipment would be prepared to share their intellectual property. Professor Harrison added that perhaps a licencing agreement could be put in place, the manufacturers could limit the IP they share, or other businesses could provide components and build sub-assemblies which could then be supplied to the original ventilator manufacturers.”