A Boots pharmacists, operated by Walgreens Boots Alliance, in London, on Thursday, March 19 2020. Picture: BLOOMBERG/HOLLIE ADAMS
A Boots pharmacists, operated by Walgreens Boots Alliance, in London, on Thursday, March 19 2020. Picture: BLOOMBERG/HOLLIE ADAMS

London — Some of Britain’s biggest companies with expertise in aerospace and cars have formed three teams to produce basic ventilators to help the National Health Service (NHS) cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

Meggitt, which employs 12,000 people and builds components including oxygen systems for civil aerospace and military fighter programmes, is leading one consortium alongside engineers GKN, Thales and Renishaw.

The other two teams are being led by carmakers McLaren, which is looking at how to design a simple version of a ventilator; and Nissan, which is working with others to support existing ventilator producers.

European aerospace group Airbus is working across the process to see if its 3D printing or production facilities can be of use. “The aim is for there to be a prototype in two weeks and for manufacturing to start in four weeks,” one person familiar with the situation said.

With the coronavirus outbreak taking hold in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson turned to industry earlier this week, asking major companies, such as Rolls-Royce and Ford, to build ventilators that are critical for helping those who are struggling to breathe.

The head of the NHS said on Tuesday that Britain has 8,175 ventilators in the country.

Two groups are acting to co-ordinate the programme — PA Consulting and High Value Manufacturing Catapult, which was set up by the government to bridge the gap between British business and its powerful academic sector to turn ideas into income.

Airbus said these are unprecedented times and it will help where it can. “Our engineers and technology teams are investigating the practicalities of how we might best support the design, manufacturing and assembly of critical medical equipment,” a spokesperson said.

The car companies are looking at how they can help with production of a simplified design of a ventilator, analysing existing models and looking at ways to develop a prototype quickly.

The government has approached carmakers including Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Honda, Peugeot-owned Vauxhall, Bentley, Aston Martin and Nissan in the past few days.

McLaren has offered its design and engineering expertise. Others are on standby and waiting for more specific demands from the government.


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