Coronavirus: Ventilator solution is there if we look hard enough

The UK government has asked UK manufacturers to help make 20,000 ventilators in less than 2 weeks.

Jaguar Rover, Rolls Royce, Vauxhall and Airbus are all involved and the effort is being coordinated by a management consultancy.

The goal is to see if UK companies can work together and start manufacturing ventilators in record quick time.

The effort has been described as a “wartime drive”.

This is what companies do in times of war. 

In 1940 the Germans were preparing to invade Britain. Winston Churchill was rousing the English people to “fight them on the beaches” but they were desperately short of rifles & machine guns.

Most of the English weapons were on the beach in Dunkirk.

The existing Lee-Enfield rifles and Bren guns were expensive and it would take time to install the special tooling required to manufacture these weapons. 

England didn’t have money or time, but they needed guns quickly.

Amazingly, the war department didn’t form a committee. They gave the project to Major Reginald Shepherd & a guy called Harold Turpin.

Together they sat down at a table and designed a new machine gun. It was designed to use parts that were already available. 

The main body was made out of pipe used for car exhausts. Other metal components were made from stamped metal. Which plenty of British manufacturers were competent with.

The nuts and bolts used were already available in local stores and they got a local bed factory to make the main firing spring.

It had a total of 47 parts and it used existing 9mm pistol rounds.

They named it the Sten gun. It cost just 4 pounds which was the average weekly wage at the time. 

The Tri-ang toy company stopped making toys and overnight, went into making the Sten gun. 

By the end of the war, 4 million Sten guns had been made.

Reginald & Harry had found what was available locally and hacked together a working machine gun.

Another example of the wartime drive was the De Havilland Aircraft company. Their Mosquito bomber was made almost entirely out of wood. Which was rare for the time. 

Britain had lots of skilled carpenters and joiners. Across the country, these carpenters began making parts of the Mosquito bomber in their own workshops. 

Some would make a tail section or the rudder or ailerons. They would load the components onto their trucks and drive them to the main De Havilland factory where they were assembled.

But planes and submachine guns are one thing, its a completely different thing to make a piece of medical equipment like a ventilator.

But I’m reminded of a story of a guy called Tim Prestero. He founded a company called Design that Matters. They focus on designing health solutions for the third world.

Infant death due to hypothermia kills a lot of babies in poor countries. Modern incubators are provided to hospitals as part of foreign aid programs. But when they breakdown, the specialised repair infrastructure is not available and the incubators stay broken.

Tim and his team designed an incubator made from car parts. Toyota’s are seen running in the most remote parts of the world and you can get parts for them anywhere.

It made sense to piggyback off the Toyota supply chain.

The incubators heating comes from a car headlight. The heat circulation system uses a dashboard fan, indicator lights and a door chime act an alarm. The unit uses a cigarette lighter and a motorcycle battery so it can run in a power cut.

Another example of using whats easily available locally and designing a solution around it.

Currently, there are a number of open-source projects working on building a ventilator that can be built locally and quickly. Some are already in the process of getting the medical approvals required.

3D printers are being used to make parts. Cheap Arduino microprocessors which are available at any electronic store are providing the control systems and one project is using modified snorkelling masks to attach to patients faces.

No matter the calamity we find our selves, there’s usually a solution if we look hard enough. 

We are all hoping we can get these ventilators built.

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