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NPL scientists and engineers create low cost ventilator

The global pandemic has shone a light on the engineering and scientific community’s renowned abilities to work as a team and solve incredible challenges, but the work of outstanding individuals should also be celebrated.

Only six months into her career at NPL, engineer Jean Morris instigated and played an important role in developing a programme to build and test prototype ventilators. A large part of the work was undertaken by early-career members of the team, including three graduates of the NPL apprentice program, Joshua Bayfield, Joshua Schofield and Arthur Vie, who designed and integrated electrical, software and mechanical components for the final design.

The team has been awarded the President’s Special Award for Pandemic Service by the Royal Academy of Engineering in recognition of their contributions in helping society to address the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 developed into an international pandemic, NPL began to utilise its significant capabilities as the UK’s National Metrology Institute to support several initiatives aiming to combat coronavirus, including the UK Government’s initial call for rapidly manufactured ventilator challenge.

At the beginning of March, numerous colleagues, led by Jean Morris, began an informal Microsoft Teams chat about the Ventilator Challenge, and built prototypes in a matter of days. Arthur Vie created the first ventilator prototype in his workshop at home and displayed the prototype via Teams, which generated the belief and enthusiasm that carried the project forward.

After much research, three ventilator prototypes were built and tested using a newly created ventilator test facility at NPL, which was also utilised by external ventilator developers.

Jean Morris, Arthur Vie, Joshua Bayfield, Joshua Schofield, Chris Bull and Jolyon Caplin designed a fan-based ventilator, PocketVent, that was reviewed as being the most promising design created at NPL and was supported by performance test data meeting the critical functionality and performance requirements details in the MHRA specification for ventilation.

This easy to use design costs approximately £1,000, a tenth of the cost of a commercial unit, and all parts are either made with common machine tools, are easily sourced off the shelf components, or can be shipped by multiple global suppliers.

Jean Morris, Research Engineer, NPL states: “Working collaboratively on this project with several colleagues from different disciplines, meant there were a broad range of ideas that ultimately lead to the design of this easy to produce and affordable ventilator. We were encouraged to give this project as much time as required, which gave us the freedom to explore new ways of working as a team. It’s an honour that the work of this team has been recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering.”

Paul Shore, Head of Engineering, NPL stated: “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.”

Find out more about the PocketVent

Watch the Royal Academy of Engineering's video here

HRH The Princess Royal congratulates winners of the Royal Academy of Engineering's President's Special Awards for Pandemic Service

17 Aug 2020