‘Inspiring’ ventilator workers nominated for St David Award


The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Cymru’s crucial role in the mass-manufacture of life-saving medical ventilators during the pandemic has been recognised by Wales’ national awards.

The annual St David Awards celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the people of Wales with categories recognising: bravery; business; community spirit; culture and sport; humanitarian; innovation, science and technology; young person critical worker and a special award from the First Minister.

First Minister Mark Drakeford announced those shortlisted for a St David Award on Thursday, February 25, with recognition in the ‘Innovation, Science and Technology’ category for the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, in which AMRC Cymru played an essential role, transforming into an assembly site for the life-saving devices.

Announcing the shortlist, the First Minister said: “This year’s St David Awards finalists are an inspiring group of people that we are lucky to have living and working in Wales.

“The past year has been incredibly challenging for many of us. The coronavirus pandemic has brought much sadness and heartbreak – but it has also brought out the best in many people. This group of people from across the whole of Wales, are a true inspiration to us all.”

Research Director at AMRC Cymru, Andy Silcox, led his team through the incredible effort. He said: “We are exceptionally proud to be part of this nomination which recognises the hard work of our anchor tenant Airbus and hundreds of people across the UK who joined the national effort to produce life-saving ventilators.”

In March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on manufacturers to join a wartime-style effort to mass-produce medical ventilators in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Through membership of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, AMRC Cymru was transformed into a ventilator production facility by VentilatorChallengeUK, a consortium of UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses.

In fewer than two weeks, the state-of-the-art research institute was stripped out by Airbus to allow 88 operators to work simultaneously while maintaining safe social distancing and allowing shift breaks and lunch times. VentilatorChallengeUK redeployed workers from Airbus and Siemens to work on the production line.

Additionally, the AMRC’s Head of Digital, Professor Rab Scott, was tasked with coordinating the deployment of Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality (AR) headsets to fast track the training of operatives. The headsets gave workers guided instructions in how to set up the new production processes needed to make the ventilators and hands-free video calling to let operators collaborate with experts hundreds of miles away.

In total, the consortium produced 13,437 ventilators for the NHS in record time.

Dick Elsy, Chairman of VentilatorChallengeUK and CEO of HVM Catapult, said: “What VentilatorChallengeUK achieved in the space of 12 weeks is nothing short of incredible, creating and producing an approved product and setting up production facilities on this scale would normally take years.

“This coalition of the very best of this country’s people and capability across different sectors has truly showcased the strength of the manufacturing industry in the UK.”

AMRC Cymru had officially opened just months prior to the call from the Prime Minister, in November 2019. Backed by a £20m investment from Welsh Government, AMRC Cymru operates a 2,000 square metre open access research area in Broughton with Airbus the first major tenant with a platform to develop their next generation wing technologies aligned to its Wing of Tomorrow programme.

Andy Silcox said: “Our state-of-the-art building has now been transformed back into the R&D facility it was intended to be and we look forward to inviting manufacturers onto the shop floor so we can demonstrate how they can make significant improvements in their manufacturing processes through the integration of advanced technologies.”