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STFC Technicians support rapid ventilator production


STFC Technicians support rapid ventilator production

Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) technicians and engineers are part of a UK team producing simple ventilators for the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic. The STFC group is leading training for others to carry out testing and calibration of the new ventilators.

Highly-skilled STFC members of staff will train some 300 people from a range of organisations taking part in the project. The newly-trained testers will use their skills at the facility producing the new ventilators in Abingdon, Oxfordshire and other nearby locations before the simple device is deployed in hospitals.

Anna Orlowska, Director of Technology for STFC, has been organising this effort. She said: “I have been overwhelmed by the number of staff who are eager to help with this project, and it shows what a fantastic, skilled and enthusiastic workforce we have in the National Laboratories, who are keen to put their skills to use for such a good cause.”

The first four 'super trainers' come from across STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Diamond Light Source, evidence of how the skills of our technicians and engineers are being used in the effort to treat COVID-19 patients in the UK. John Crawford from ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Angela George from Diamond Light Source, Phil Rice from the Central Laser Facility and Mark Anderson from RAL Space  spent the weekend at the production facility developing a training manual to be used by other STFC expert trainers. During the evenings this week, these four will train a further 30 STFC staff members to ensure that all are capable of training others by the time the ventilators come off the production line.

Mark Anderson, RAL Space 'super trainer' said: “To be invited to be part of a team of people and businesses that have been able to ​​redesign and develop a ventilator that will be used to save lives is fantastic. For me it goes to show that with a common goal the UK can pull its business skills together to overcome a challenge."

The test itself takes 30-40 minutes to carry out and involves testing the pressure and air flow through the ventilator while it inflates/deflates a set of steel “lungs". The expert trainers will need to ensure that all testers understand the method and the clear boundaries that need to be followed when testing. The team has to follow social distancing rules to ensure the health of those taking part in the project, restricting the number of people who can be trained at one time. In addition, only one prototype is available for training; the arrival of another prototype this week should allow the team to speed up training of testers.

One of the major challenges for the UK in facing the pandemic is the production of ventilators, to keep patients with respiratory difficulties out of intensive care. The medical equipment manufacturer Penlon, based in Abingdon, already supplies the NHS with machines used by anaesthetists in operating theatres. Once it became clear that the demand for ventilators was going to increase dramatically, the company developed a simpler device that can be mass produced and used on a ward as a ventilator: breathing for a patient when they are unable to do it themselves.

Penlon is part of a consortium, VentilatorChallengeUK, of over 20 companies including Airbus, Ford and McLaren, who will produce the ventilators on a large scale, as featured by the BBC and the Guardian. Before the tens of thousands of ventilators can be used by the NHS, they need to be tested and calibrated, to ensure they can be delivered under the company's medical licence.

ISIS Deputy Director, and Head of ISIS Operations, Zoë Bowden said; “Our technicians are some of the best in the country, it's inspiring to see them adapt their skills so quickly to make such an important contribution at this critical time."

STFC is also supporting urgent efforts to fight COVID-19 in other ways.  This includes involvement in scientific research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus (that causes the disease COVID-19) through the UK’s national synchrotron Diamond Light Source, co-funded by STFC, which is looking at potential drug targets and on proteins that represent potential weak points of the virus. It is being supported in this work by STFC’s Scientific Computing Department who develop software for determining protein structures by crystallography and electron microscopy respectively, and form part of the toolkit being used against COVID-19. In addition the UK's Central Laser Facility (CLF) is inviting rapid access proposals to its Octopus imaging cluster for research relevant to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19.


The Science and Technology Facilities Council is part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB and the ESO telescopes in Chile. STFC is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise.

VentilatorChallengeUK is a consortium of significant UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors, has come together to produce medical ventilators for the UK. Get in touch with the consortium directly for more information on the project.

For interviews with STFC members of staff please contact:

Amy Pollock
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Science and Technology Facilities Council
Harwell Campus | Didcot | OX11 0QX
Mob: 07557 317200

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