The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has produced headsets enabling aerospace and automotive production line operatives to rapidly switch to the manufacture of medical ventilators.
The augmented reality equipment is critical to the success of a powerful industrial consortium which has come together to accelerate the production of thousands of ventilators before the Covid-19 pandemic reaches its peak and risks overwhelming the ability of NHS doctors and nurses to treat a sudden surge in patients suffering from the virus.
The industrial consortium, Ventilator Challenge UK, came together after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, made a plea for an additional 50,000 ventilators to be delivered to the NHS within a matter of weeks.
“What we are seeing in South Yorkshire and in North Wales is part of a truly nationwide and global response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” says the AMRC’s Head of Digital, Professor Rab Scott.
Under the leadership of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, the University of Sheffield’s AMRC and the Nuclear AMRC, are at the heart of a multi-faceted campaign to deliver the additional ventilators, the first of which will be coming off production lines around the UK as early as next week, according to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove.
The consortium is focusing production on two existing ventilator designs which meet the high-level specification for a Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System (RMVS) developed by clinicians and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Within hours of the Prime Minister laying down his ventilator challenge, the AMRC and Nuclear AMRC were taking scores of requests for assistance, not just for ventilators, but also for medical equipment such as face masks and swabs and vials for Covid-19 test kits.
To make sense of this, the Nuclear AMRC generated a communications log to streamline the most appropriate support by identifying those with the capability to best produce key products and sub-level components.
“This information was refined and characterised to fit with the government’s prescribed classification criteria. In the two weeks following the challenge, the Nuclear AMRC registered over 90 enquiries,” said Professor Steve Jones, Chief Technology Officer at the Nuclear AMRC.
“These were then filtered to produce a focused and directly tangible suite of proposals to assess support from both within the Nuclear AMRC, the AMRC, our stakeholder community and the Fit for Nuclear supply-chain network.”
Manufacture of the ventilators will be scaled up at AMRC Cymru in Broughton in North Wales in collaboration with automotive giant Ford.
Rather than putting wearers of the headset in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them; users can walk around the objects they create and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice.
Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “The AMRC and the Nuclear AMRC have always been at the forefront of using innovation to respond to the most pressing challenges.
“We are incredibly proud of how our staff have risen to this challenge by supporting the design and manufacture of new ventilators and other vital medical equipment at this time of national emergency.
“The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium is a prime example of what can be achieved when industry, academia and the government work together. This approach will remain a critical element in the UK’s crisis response and recovery.”