University of Sheffield AMRC and Nuclear AMRC at the heart of national effort to manufacture medical ventilators

  • AMRC and Nuclear AMRC play major role in Ventilator Challenge UK consortium to produce 10,000 medical ventilators in response to Covid-19 pandemic
  • Futuristic HoloLens headsets, programmed to enable skilled aerospace production line operatives to rapidly switch to the manufacture of ventilators, transferred from AMRC in Rotherham to AMRC Cymru
  • AMRC Cymru scaling up production of approved ventilator models by Oxford-based Penlon in collaboration with automotive giant Ford
  • AMRC’s Machining Group making critical ventilator components

The HoloLens device is demonstrated by Sean Wilson from the AMRC

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC are at the heart of a national effort to produce 10,000 medical ventilators as part of a consortium of leading industrial, technology and engineering businesses.

The industrial consortium, Ventilator Challenge UK, came together after Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an urgent plea for an additional 50,000 ventilators to be delivered to the NHS within a matter of weeks before the coronavirus pandemic reaches its peak.

The AMRC and Nuclear AMRC are playing a major role in the multi-faceted campaign led by the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult to deliver additional ventilators – the first of which will be coming off production lines around the UK in the next week.

Companies in the consortium have now received formal orders from the government in excess of 10,000 units. The consortium is focusing production on two existing ventilator designs which meet the high-level specification for a Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System developed by clinicians and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

This week, futuristic HoloLens headsets, which are programmed to enable skilled aerospace production line operatives to rapidly switch to the manufacture of ventilators, were transferred from the AMRC in Rotherham to AMRC Cymru in Broughton, North Wales.

The HoloLens headsets will be used to fast-track the training of operatives, while allowing them to keep a safe distance from one another in line with Covid-19 guidance.

Microsoft, who supplied the headsets, tasked Professor Rab Scott, Head of Digital at the AMRC, with coordinating their deployment across the country. The high-tech equipment – initially designed for use in gaming –- will be fitted with software provided by an AMRC partner, the US-based global augmented reality specialist PTC.

Rather than putting wearers of the headset in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them. Users can walk around the objects they create and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice.

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “The AMRC and the Nuclear AMRC have always been at the forefront of using innovation to respond to the most pressing challenges.

"We are incredibly proud of how our staff have risen to this challenge by supporting the design and manufacture of new ventilators and other vital medical equipment at this time of national emergency.

“The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium is a prime example of what can be achieved when industry, academia and the government work together. This approach will remain a critical element in the UK’s crisis response and recovery.”

The manufacture of approved ventilator models designed by Oxford-based Penlon will be scaled up at AMRC Cymru in collaboration with automotive giant Ford.

The facility, which is managed by the University of Sheffield AMRC, was recently opened by First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, whose government invested £20 million in the state-of-the-art research and development operation to support the retention of Airbus wing manufacture in the region.

Staff from the AMRC’s Machining Group have also been making critical components based on designs from Luton-based Smiths Medical, to scale up its tried-and-tested ventilators, already used in hospitals and ambulances.

Phil Kirkland, Engineering Manager at the AMRC, hurriedly pulled together a team to review the designs on Thursday, before manufacturing the test parts on Friday, ready for delivery the following Sunday evening and assembly at Ford on Monday.

Component parts were manufactured from aluminium and brass supported by Sheffield-based Ian Cocker Precision Engineering. The products proved out by the AMRC and Nuclear AMRC are now being manufactured at assembly sites across the UK.

Within hours of the Prime Minister laying down his ventilator challenge, the AMRC and Nuclear AMRC received a high number of requests for assistance, not just for ventilators, but also for medical equipment such as face masks and swabs and vials for Covid-19 test kits.

To make sense of this, the Nuclear AMRC generated a communications log to streamline the most appropriate support by identifying those with the capability to best produce key products and sub-level components.

Dick Elsy, CEO of the HVM Catapult, which has seven centres across the UK including the AMRC and the Nuclear AMRC, said: “What we are seeing here is a truly collaborative, international effort, with the best and brightest engineering and manufacturing brains coming together under the auspices of the HVM Catapult to rally all their resources in response to the distress signal from the NHS.”

The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium comprises: Airbus, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems, Ford, HVM Catapult, Inspiration Healthcare, Meggit, Microsoft, Penlon, Renishaw, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, Smiths Group, Thales Ultra Electronics, Unilever and UK-based F1 teams (Haas Racing, McLaren, Mercedes, Racing Point, Red Bull Racing, Renault Sport Racing, Williams).

Read more about the University of Sheffield AMRC and Nuclear AMRC’s work in the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium

Additional information

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is a world-class centre for research into advanced manufacturing technologies used in the aerospace, automotive, medical and other high-value
manufacturing sectors.

The AMRC has a global reputation for helping companies overcome manufacturing problems and is a model for
collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry worldwide.

Combining state of the art technologies with the AMRC’s expertise in design and prototyping, machining, casting,
welding, additive manufacturing, composites, robotics and automation, digital manufacturing and structural testing,
has created a manufacturing resource far beyond anything previously available in the UK.

The AMRC is a member of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a consortium of leading manufacturing and process research centres, backed by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Public Affairs Manager
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046