In the fast lane: F1 helps UK race towards target of 30,000 ventilators
The UK is homing in on a solution to the shortage of ventilators needed to address the growing coronavirus crisis with help from Formula 1 motor racing teams and corporate giants such as Siemens AG and Airbus SE.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week appealed to manufacturers of all stripes to help build 30,000 ventilators so that the National Health System doesn’t run out of capacity. The publicly funded system only has just over 8,000 of the devices in operation today.
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Adding urgency to the challenge is the rising number of UK cases of coronavirus: on Tuesday, the Health Department announced more than 1,400 new cases and 87 more deaths. Health service chiefs have warned that a lack of ventilators may soon force doctors to choose which patients get access to the life-saving equipment.
While production of the new devices is yet to start, progress has been swift, and an announcement on the way forward is likely in the coming days, according to two people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Ventilator Makers Can Speed Up, But They Face Shortages of Parts
Johnson’s request caused initial confusion, with some dismissing his ambition as unfeasible. But three groups have been formed: one is looking at scaling up production of existing ventilators, the second at designing new models, and the third at reverse-engineering them.
The first of those groups -- which includes Airbus, Siemens, Smiths Group Plc and the Mercedes and McLaren Formula 1 teams -- is working on two designs: one for non-critical patients, which can be produced in relatively high numbers, and one for patients in critical care, according to one of the people. Also in the group is Penlon Ltd., which already makes anesthesia machines that perform some of the functions of intensive care ventilators.
On March 20, Formula 1 issued a statement saying a collective of UK-based teams were working on the ventilator project. “All the teams have expert design, technology and production capabilities, and specialize in rapid prototyping and high value manufacturing, which is hoped can be applied to the critical needs set out by government," it said.
Seven F1 teams are focused on rapid prototyping and design, as well as validation and testing, according to one of the people familiar. The manufacturers would then step in to produce the devices in bulk.
The UK isn’t alone in seeking help from business to deal with the coronavirus: in the US, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. are helping to step up production of respiratory devices.