The AirCare ventilator: A tribute to our BAE Systems employees

Monday, 18 May 2020

In mid-March, the UK Government announced its national ventilator challenge to industry indicating a need for up to 30,000 additional ventilators

The BAE Systems team in their Applied Intelligence business in Guildford, under the leadership of Mark Bennett, Strategy Director, Government, came up with an innovative idea for an entirely new ventilator.  This was to be built from readily available parts that could be rapidly manufactured.

The team started work immediately, joining forces with Intersurgical, already a leading provider of respiratory products to the NHS. 

Following input from senior NHS clinicians it became apparent that this ventilator design was suited to treat COVID-19, Chief Technology Officer, Ben Hudson, stepped in to help bring together the wider engineering and manufacturing skills across BAE Systems.

With Ben’s help, the Maritime Services business offered its high-tech electronic manufacturing expertise in Broad Oak, Portsmouth and Hillend, near Edinburgh, creating a production process that would allow us to build more than 1,000 units per week. Within three weeks, the production line in Portsmouth was ready and the employees were proudly starting to build multiple units of the AirCare ventilator.

As the project progressed it became clear that some additional specialist skills and capabilities were needed. The Air team based in Lancashire joined the project, providing specialist engineering support while also using their industrial-scale 3D printers - which are also printing PPE for frontline health workers - to print hundreds of new ventilator parts. These parts were flown directly from their site in Warton to the production line in Portsmouth. 

Ben Hudson, Chief Technology Officer of BAE Systems commented;

“Thanks to an incredibly dedicated and talented team who worked day and night to draw on the incredible advanced engineering and manufacturing expertise we have in BAE Systems, we went from a concept to a functioning design in just a few weeks, something that would typically take up to a year.  We couldn’t have done this without the support from the wider company, clinicians, the Government and the MHRA. The combined effort from everyone involved, including our suppliers and SMEs, has been truly inspirational.

Mercifully, ventilators have not been required in the numbers originally estimated. 

While the AirCare ventilator will not be going into large-scale production for the immediate UK response to COVID-19, it is a clear testament to the ingenuity of the BAE Systems people and the innovation within their business. BAE are proud to have played our part in responding to the call for help from the Government and stand by to help further in any way they can.

Dave Rollo, Site Lead and Head of Programme Management at BAE Systems’ Hillend advanced manufacturing site, said:

 “On hearing of the ventilator challenge programme we modified our facilities to prepare for safe working conditions. Within 24 hours staff had returned, working night and day over a 2-3 week period to support the urgent build programme for the NHS.

“It was a magnificent effort using all our procurement, engineering and manufacturing teams’ skills to build product in quick time, knowing that every ventilator produced could save someone’s life. The team also collaborated with other local companies, including Dynamic EMS, who carried out a support role manufacturing one of the key parts on the programme.

“It was a real pleasure and honour for all the staff at Hillend to be involved in the Air Care programme and to be able to directly contribute to the COVID-19 relief cause.”