Supporting design and production
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis the government launched the UK Ventilator Challenge to encourage manufacturers to re-purpose their assembly lines and support new designs to meet anticipated demand.
NPL has a broad team of experts with vast knowledge in many of the key parameters of ventilator control and operation, including: temperature; humidity; pressure; gases; dimensional measurement; materials; as well as engineering skills and equipment. NPL offered advice, guidance and consultancy in the verification, testing and, where applicable, the design and prototyping of parts.
After a few weeks, it became apparent that the additional number of ventilators required for the UK would not be as high as feared, and the specifications for the requirements evolved as it became clear that the constant pressure apparatus (CPAP) was often more effective than conventional ventilators. We established a test capability based around a lung emulator loaned from Kings College London. It was used for performance testing new ventilator designs against the developing MHRA specification.
NPL offered its support, at no cost, to companies developing and manufacturing ventilators in the following ways:
- carrying out the validation tests of open-source, prototype ventilators for developing countries
- identifying time savings in the test plans and manufacturing process for several major UK companies who were repurposing their facilities to produce ventilators
- advising on gas and oxygen sensors given the global shortage of these critical ventilator components
NPL staff developed a potentially life-saving ventilator to treat coronavirus patients in poor and remote parts of the world. A multidisciplinary team of engineers and scientists pursued several innovative designs which were designed to run on battery, solar panels, wind turbines or mains power, as well as being simple to use and made from widely available parts.
Three low-cost, robust and simple ventilator designs emerged and NPL produced prototypes of each, which were evaluated against the MHRA specification. The PocketVent emerged as an innovative game changing design. It is a unique, fan-based ventilator, smaller than a laptop, and is expected to cost less than £1000, compared with the cheapest commercially available ventilator at £8k or the more usual £25k. It is light, robust, quickly assembled with no major mechanical parts, and has the potential to be distributed by plane or drone. With the first peak of the virus over in the UK, this design could be useful for further outbreaks or in developing countries with fewer ventilators.