Vebtilators on the SEAT production line

Coachlines - April 2020

18.04.20 Liveryman John Kendall

Automotive and aerospace companies join the national effort to overcome COVID-19

Businesses in the automotive, aerospace and defence sectors are taking important roles in trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many taking part in the Ventilator Challenge UK, while others are offering support to NHS and key workers during the crisis.

Ventilator Challenge UK

Leading the push to produce medical ventilators in volume is the Ventilator Challenge UK, a consortium of industrial, technological and engineering businesses with the common aim of producing up to 1,500 ventilators per week, compared with the regular capacity of 50 to 60 per week from the specialist producers Penlon and Smiths.

Last Thursday (16th April), consortium leader Dick Elsy announced, “I’m very pleased to confirm that we have now secured MHRA approval for the Penlon Prima ESO2 device which has been undergoing stringent testing and clinical trials for the past two weeks. Ventilators of this type are complex and critical pieces of medical equipment so ensuring the absolute adherence to regulatory standards and meeting clinical needs were always our priorities.

Tim Rance Penlon Prod Manager John Pacey Backgroundsmall

Penlon’s Production Manager Tim Rance with John Pacey in the background


“We will now accelerate the ramp up of production at the Penlon site in Oxfordshire and the new VCUK production lines we’ve built in Broughton, Dagenham and Woking. Having already commenced deliveries of the Smiths Group’s paraPAC plusTM devices, we are working closely with our supply chain partners to rapidly scale up production to achieve our target of at least 1,500 units a week of the combined Penlon and Smiths models.”

The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium includes: Airbus, BAE Systems, Ford, GKN Aerospace, Meggitt, Penlon, Renishaw, Rolls-Royce, Smiths, Thales, Ultra, UK-based Formula 1 teams Haas, McLaren, AMG Petronas, Red Bull Racing, BWT Racing, Renault F1 Team, Rokit Williams Racing, as well as a number of suppliers and supporters.

Vans to ventilators

Testing a ventilator at Smiths

Testing a ventilator at Smiths

Vauxhall is also assisting Smiths Medical ventilator production by providing 22 of its staff from the Vivaro van production plant in Luton on secondment, where they will help with expanded production of the Smiths Group’s paraPAC plus ventilator, which has been in use by the NHS for more than 10 years. Twenty assemblers, plus a team leader and supervisor were hand-picked for the work. They were chosen because of their specialist skills and ability to carry out intricate production work to a very high standard. The Vauxhall team will conduct in-line quality testing as the ventilators are produced, remaining on secondment with Smiths until 31st July.

Elsewhere, Coventry-based engineering services company the Envisage Group has produced a prototype portable ventilator using standard off-the-shelf medical components.

3D printing cranks up visor production

Engineering services provider Babcock has teamed up with the Royal Navy, Plymouth Science Park, the University of Plymouth, Plymouth College of Art and others to produce face shields for key workers in the Plymouth area. In little more than a week, the group has produced hundreds of face shields using 3D printing techniques. Andrew McMinn, Chief Procurement Officer at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, said: “The equipment donated by this consortium will be distributed to GPs, care homes and police across Plymouth and help to protect them as they go about their vital work in our city.”

Babcock has helped develop face shields

Babcock has helped develop face shields

Nissan is also among companies that are producing face masks. A team of volunteers has created a parts processing line in the final assembly area at Nissan’s Sunderland Plant to sort thousands of individual visor parts and pack them in sets of 125 for shipping direct to the NHS. More than 77,000 visors left the plant last week, with up to 100,000 being distributed each week, from this week. Adam Pennick, Nissan’s Production Director said: “It’s great to be able to play our part in helping to provide the NHS with these visors. Our people are experts in the logistics behind an effective supply chain, and we certainly weren’t short of volunteers for this project.”

Brothers Anthony and Chris Grilli, engineers based at Nissan’s Technical Centre in Cranfield near Milton Keynes were the inspiration behind the project, along with their two other brothers. They began by using home-based 3D printers and Nissan has funded an injection moulding tool to expand production.

Breakdown assistance for NHS and key workers

Both Nissan and Groupe PSA companies Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles and Vauxhall are offering free roadside assistance to NHS and key workers. Nissan-driving NHS staff and key workers can access roadside services free of charge, regardless of the vehicle’s age or warranty coverage. If roadside assistance is needed, key workers can contact Nissan Assistance on 0330 123 1231. Cover includes roadside repair and recovery to the nearest Nissan dealership able to remain open for aftersales service. Nissan will also prioritise free-of-charge courtesy cars for key workers should their vehicle need to be repaired at a dealership.

Manufacturers such as Nissan are providing free roadside assistance for key workers

Manufacturers such as Nissan are providing free roadside assistance for key workers

Groupe PSA’s offer ensures that the roadside assistance programme has now been extended for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic to all NHS workers who currently drive a Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles or Vauxhall vehicle and do not already have mechanical breakdown cover. This new extension will be offered regardless of vehicle age, mileage, or if the vehicle has previously been maintained outside the Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles or Vauxhall Authorised Repairer network. Those using the scheme will need to have a current NHS Care Identity Number or Trust ID badge to support their eligibility. Contact numbers are listed below and those calling should quote, ‘NHS key worker’.

  • Peugeot – 0800 197 2045
  • Citroën – 0800 197 2046
  • DS Automobiles – 0800 24 24 07 07
  • Vauxhall – 0800 197 2049

Automotive companies aid overseas ventilator production

Testing at SEAT

Testing equipment at SEAT

Groupe PSA is also involved in a consortium led by Air Liquide to produce 10,000 respirators in response to a request from the French Government. The consortium also includes Schneider Electric and component producer Valeo. Groupe PSA has allocated workshop space at its Poissy plant in France for producing the central block of the respirator.

VW Group company SEAT is also producing ventilators at its Martorell plant near Barcelona. SEAT ventilator production includes printed gears, gearbox shafts produced at another SEAT production plant and a motor adapted from a windscreen wiper. 150 employees are involved in the production.