VentilatorChallengeUK: Major Manufacturers Join Forces to Fight COVID-19

Written By: Jacqui Cook
  • 3/31/2020
  • Read Time : 5 min

In times of adversity, people come together, and this has never been more evident than right now. Support services across the globe, like the UK’s NHS, are working tirelessly in battling the silent enemy that is COVID-19, while scientific research establishments are racing to find the vaccine. Our gratitude to all these people is boundless.

The reality is, however, that until the vaccine appears, we must deal with the fact that there is no treatment for the virus. This means that the unfortunate number of people who are worst hit are in hospital and will need breathing support. If their lungs should fail, ventilators can take over breathing for the patient.

As COVID-19 spreads exponentially, the world faces a critical shortage of these life-saving ventilators.

Manufacturers Rise to the Challenge

Across the globe, major manufacturers are joining forces to rapidly scale up ventilator production for patients with coronavirus.

Following British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for ventilator manufacturers and suppliers to step up production of ventilators, the government has partnered with a number of the UK’s leading technology and engineering firms with smaller manufacturers to rapidly build existing, modified, or newly designed ventilators. They are working to improve the speed at which current UK ventilator manufacturers can produce their devices, with larger companies pivoting their existing operations to help provide the UK with the equipment and personnel it needs for this effort.

Dick Elsy, CEO of High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a group of manufacturing research centers in the UK, is leading the VentilatorChallengeUK. This Consortium of major UK industrial, technology, and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive, and medical sectors, is putting aside daily business operations to produce medical ventilators for the UK.

Included in the project is PTC, who, with Microsoft, is providing the technology that will capture and transfer the necessary process knowledge from the existing ventilator manufacturers Smiths Group and Penlon to Ford, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, GKN, Thales, BAE Systems, McLaren, Meggitt and Renishaw so that they can quickly switch their lines to help produce the high number of ventilators needed.

“This Consortium brings together some of the most innovative companies in the world,” says Elsy. “Every day, their highly-skilled staff collaborate to create solutions that help millions of people, and this project is no different.”

Augmented Reality Brings Speed and Safety

If ever time was of the essence, it is now. Augmented reality (AR) is a critical technology that will make it possible to meet this unprecedented challenge of ramping up diverse industrial manufacturers to produce medical devices in their factories.

The consortium will be using PTC’s Vuforia Expert Capture AR technology and Microsoft’s HoloLens to capture the crucial assembly steps and processes involved in building Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator Systems (RMVS). This will be transferred and edited in PTC’s Vuforia Editor technology, which runs on Microsoft Azure, and relayed, through wearable equipment, to the factories of consortium partners that traditionally do not make ventilators. By doing so, the Consortium will reduce lead times and avoid potential transmission of COVID-19 by placing ‘virtual’ Smiths and Penlon experts on to the shopfloor.

“This is an unprecedented response from UK manufacturing for an unprecedented crisis and a great example of British engineering and technology coming together,” says Paul Haimes, Vice President of Business Development and Field Engineering at PTC. “For every new ventilator produced, another life is potentially saved. All our efforts are committed to supporting the VentilatorChallengeUK.”

The Consortium is now working at full speed to take the necessary steps in order to increase production of this design, with production beginning this week.

A Look Toward the Future

While things feel volatile right now, it’s never too early for manufacturers to start thinking about what measures to take to alleviate immediate problems and be prepared to prevent them in future.

This sudden crisis has revealed how digital technologies such as AR have become an essential part of the operating framework for manufacturers today. To quote Benjamin Disraeli,” There is no education like adversity.”


  • Augmented Reality
  • Aerospace and Defense
  • Automotive
  • Industrial Equipment
  • Life Sciences
  • Connected Devices
  • Digital Transformation
  • COVID-19

About the Author

Jacqui Cook

Jacqui Cook is a Director in PTC's Corporate Communications department. She has more than two decades experience of working with business journalists, establishing tight working relationships and producing factual content. She is descended from the originators of cricket, the UK national past time and has a strong passion for animals, in particular the British Bulldog.