The Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team’s entire powertrain production facility has been turned over to producing a breathing aid designed to keep patients suffering from the coronavirus out of intensive care.
Northamptonshire-based Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, which normally produced the 1.6-litre turbo petrol-electric hybrid units used in F1, teamed up with University College London (UCL) to develop and build the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device.
Having undergone clinical trials with the UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and other hospitals, the UCL Ventura device has now gone into production at Mercedes AMG HPP's facility in Brixworth. Around 40 machines normally used to make pistons and turbochargers for the F1 power units are being used to produce around 1000 CPAP devices per day.
The UK government has placed an order for 10,000 of the units. At the same time, UCL has made full details of the design and production methods available so that other firms around the world can produce them. They have been published on a research licensing website created by UCL Business to help share technology that can tackle Covid-19.
The UCL Ventura devices are similar to those used in hospitals in Italy and China to aid Covid-19 patients with lung infections to breathe more easily and are used in situations where oxygen alone is insufficient. According to UCL, reports in Italy show that around half of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for mechanical ventilation.
UCL, UCLH and Mercedes AMG HPP began work on the project on Wednesday 18 March and produced the first device within 100 hours. It has now been recommended for use by the required regulator.
The device was reverse-engineered to enable it to be produced quickly, and UCL says that “rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country” will now commence.
Mercedes-AMG HPP boss Andy Cowell said: “We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe.”
Ventilator consortium to ramp up production
In late March, the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, whose members include Ford and the seven UK-based F1 teams, finalised designs for a range of Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator Systems (RMVS) that can be quickly produced. Companies in the consortium have now received formal orders from the UK government for in excess of 10,000 units.
The VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium is made up for engineering and technology businesses from the automotive, aerospace and medical sectors, and was set up in response to a call from the government for assistance in the rapid production of ventilators.
The consortium members evaluated a range of designs and has now agreed on a final version, which it says is based on existing technologies and proven clinical equipment and can be assembled from materials and parts already in production.
Regulators have been involved with the process, and the consortium said it anticipates “a straightforward and very prompt” sign off, with production set to begin this week.
The complexity of producing medical equipment means that the devices are unlikely to be produced in the Ford engine plant or F1 workshops, but they will likely develop and supply specific parts to a firm in the consortium that already produces medical ventilators. They will also offer manufacturing support and assembly facilities to enable production to be scaled up.