Opinion

Rising to the Government Ventilator Challenge

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One year on from the height of lockdown and the launch of the Government’s Ventilator Challenge, Ramie Smith, senior director customer management – EMEA at Plexus, looks back at how its team in Scotland responded to a national call for ventilators in record speed.

In early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold, the UK Government recognised a significant risk – the NHS did not have enough breathing aids to support patients.

Building on the strong history of innovation and design in the UK, the Government launched the Ventilator Challenge – calling on UK manufacturers to produce ventilators and Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines to support the treatment of COVID-19.

Our design team at our Livingston Design Centre immediately embarked on an extraordinary project.

The team, working as part of a multi-company consortium, alongside colleagues in Germany and three other Plexus Design Centres across the globe, worked around the clock to design and create the Zephyr Plus Ventilator, which was ready for volume manufacturing in less than 60 days.

At the same time, becoming one of the lead manufacturers involved in the challenge, the manufacturing team in Kelso, Scotland, delivered an equally extraordinary achievement by reverse engineering and producing a HAPP (Helix Adult Paediatric Portable) ventilator in under two weeks.

As governments around the world tried to increase their domestic ventilator supply, the global demand for materials soared.  Faced with shortages for multiple parts, the Plexus team demonstrated innovative thinking and problem solving to identify alternative parts and possible sources. Thankfully, we had nurtured very close relationships with our suppliers, which ensured we could source the required material and enable the final products to function as planned.

By early June, the Government had secured 11,000 non-invasive ventilators and roughly 5,000 CPAP machines as a result of the challenge.  As supply expanded and patient numbers concurrently began to drop, we experienced a collective sense of relief as the situation improved. 

The Ventilator Challenge enhanced our mentality at Plexus and redefined what’s possible. If we’re faced with an obstacle, we now ask ourselves: “What would we do if this were the Ventilator Challenge?”.

We are unbelievably proud of our teams, who moved mountains in a time of global crisis to produce life-saving devices in record time. We are now prepared and stand ready to meet whatever challenges we face as we support our customers to create the products that build a better world.

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