How Newton Europe supported the rapid manufacture of ventilators

17 July 2020 4 min. read
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Operational consultancy Newton Europe has helped a consortium of firms in the UK produce more than 11,000 emergency ventilators in just 12 weeks. With breathing support apparatus in short supply at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Newton worked alongside data management expert Quick Release to play a pivotal role in rapidly increasing production of the ESO2 device.

Despite research from the highly-regarded Global Health Security Index recently claiming the UK should have been one of the world’s best positioned countries to cope with Covid-19, mixed messages from the Government and a decade of austerity cuts to the National Health Service quickly saw the country sink into a state of crisis during the worst months of the pandemic. The NHS in particular was already approaching a breaking-point following 10 years of austerity which had left it underfunded and understaffed.

While health workers were still not offered testing for coronavirus for some time, and many even had to buy their own face masks or hoods, most critically of all, with intensive care beds already overflowing, ventilators were found to be in extremely short supply. As survival of Covid-19 for many people hinges upon breathing support, drastic action was needed. As the Government scrambles to source the vital life-saving equipment, it established a consortium of businesses to help deliver the life-saving equipment.

How Newton Europe supported the rapid manufacture of ventilators

The Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium is a large group of companies that came together to produce medical ventilators for British hospitals. The consortium was made up of industrial, technology and engineering companies from across the automotive, aviation and medical sectors – as well as a number of representatives from the consulting industry. Accenture, BAE Systems and PA Consulting Group were all among the list of organisations responding to the challenge, as well as operational consultancy Newton Europe.

Working alongside product data management specialist Quick Release in the Oxfordshire based Penlon group wing of the consortium, Newton helped ramp up production on the group’s ESO2 device to produce 11,683 ventilators in just 12 weeks, with more than 12.5 million parts being used during the production process. According to a release from Newton and Quick Release, the firms’ combined expertise in operational excellence, supply chain mobilisation and transformation programme management played a pivotal role in rapidly increasing production of the ESO2.

Dick Elsy, Head of the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, said, “When the call came from the Government, it meant that specialist manufacturers such as Penlon and Smiths needed to significantly ramp-up production of a complex device at a rate never seen before. Newton and Quick Release’s support in making data-driven decisions has quickly resolved any bottlenecks and meant the consortium companies have been able to get on with building the parts needed in record time.”

Newton and Quick Release’s responsibility can be broadly split into two areas. The first phase looked at identifying the fastest route to regulatory sign-off and then driving urgency behind the critical tasks. They then shifted their focus to look at unblocking the rate-limiting parts or processes needed for high-volume manufacture. To overcome the barriers of scaling production in such a complex and fast-moving environment, Newton and Quick Release deployed experts to design the right analytical tools, implement processes and facilitate effective communication across multiple businesses.

This helped the consortium to fix issues that might impact production. For example, when the team discovered a critical part was being produced below the required rate, they found a new supplier who could produce at a higher frequency, validated their quality assurance process, checked their samples and reviewed their capability to on-board them within just 24 hours. 

Speaking on the consortium’s achievements, Tom Wedgwood, Founding Director of Newton, commented, “This is the single biggest manufacturing challenge I’ve ever seen – in fact, it’s the challenge of a lifetime. Assembling a consortium of 12 businesses, with nine new sites, over 2,000 people, building a global supply chain and scaling-up from producing tens of machines to thousands per week – all in the space of two months – is unprecedented… The work the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium is delivering will undoubtedly save lives and I’m immensely proud of the role the Newton team is playing.”