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Covid response

Ventilators

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

Innovative design

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.

Impact during COVID-19

  • Delivering trusted testing and advice for new ventilators
  • Helping companies understand and apply product standards   
  • Providing advice on product modifications or alternative components while still complying with regulations
  • Developing innovative testing regimes
  • Giving reliable independent advice, particularly for medical devices and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency   
  • Providing confidence that new ventilators are assessed accurately

Creating a low cost and easy to produce ventilator in short duration and from a standstill would seem an impossible task, though that is what the NPL Ventilator team have achieved. The foundation of this instrument development has been NPL’s measurement and test capabilities, these were established to support many of the UK’s ventilator development projects. This testing ability at NPL guided the design of the PocketVent which was created by staff within NPL’s Instruments Group. The dedication of the whole NPL Ventilator team during the pandemic has been inspiring.

Paul Shore - Head of Engineering, NPL

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Our research and measurement solutions support innovation and product development. We work with companies to deliver business advantage and commercial success.
Contact our Customer Services team on +44 20 8943 7070