Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Kingdom (UK) Government challenged UK manufacturers to increase the number of ventilators available within the NHS (National Health Service). See how Plexus rose to the challenge and leveraged our experience to work as part of a consortium aiming to bring a new ventilator to market in record time.
Zephyr Plus Ventilator (executed with Consortium Partners: Babcock International, Kohler Mira Ltd and a leading medical equipment company)
The design team at our Livingston Design Centre has a long history of medical product development. Since opening in 2002, the team has worked with many leading medical device providers to create products meeting the requirements of global regulatory authorities, including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK.
At the end of March 2020, the team shifted to work on an extraordinary project as part of the UK Government’s Ventilator Challenge: rapidly design and manufacture a ventilator unit intended to provide assisted respiration for COVID-19 patients. This was a uniquely challenging project – design and develop a brand new, life-preserving product in less than 3-months and rapidly transition into volume production.
“Our history of working on safety critical designs for medical devices placed Plexus in a strong position to support this project” said Peter Winnington-Ingram, Senior Site Director for Livingston and Darmstadt Design Centers.
“We regularly support globally diverse customers with remote teams of engineers. This means our teams have the culture, tools, infrastructure and experience to quickly and effectively contribute to a project that has largely been coordinated virtually. With our One Plexus focus, we brought together experts from our design teams and manufacturing facilities around the world from the outset of a project. This allowed us to efficiently accelerate from product design to the transition into volume production.”
Within a few days of the UK Government’s announcement of the ventilator challenge, the team received the product specifications and initiated the design process. The electronics design was led by a core team out of the Livingston Design Center, working with colleagues out of the Darmstadt Design Center and at three other Plexus Design Centers across the globe. Meaning, the work on the project could continue around the clock.
The team also worked closely with a leading medical equipment company in Germany and Babcock International Group in the UK to accelerate the development of the electronics used in the ventilator. As COVID-19 continued to evolve, the team’s resolve to maintain pace never wavered.
“This highly accelerated development timeline showcases our ability to work efficiently and accurately as a global team, as well as in close cooperation with a consortium of partners,” said Hugh Macdonald, Staff Engineer leading the electronics design for Plexus.
“It was an exciting opportunity to draw on my professional skills and contribute directly to an immediate humanitarian cause. The compelling urgency of the situation was a powerful motivator to strive and excel. Working with a talented team to achieve this outcome has been a career highlight."
Faced with a surge in demand for ventilators across the world, our supply chain team evaluated a potentially insurmountable challenge. The need for our supply chain and engineering teams to work in concert was more important than ever. As the supply chain team secured material, many of the components available were not the designer’s first choice. This led to redesign activities to ensure part selections were made that supported the critical timeline of this project.
This very close relationship between our supply chain and design teams, throughout the design phase, allowed the product to function as planned and also ensured a suitable supply of materials both for initial prototypes and onwards into volume manufacturing. Our sourcing strategy required a high level of localization.
“Our UK-based printed circuit board suppliers, Merlin Circuit Technology Ltd and Amphenol Invotec, went above and beyond by adding additional shifts to their operations and by buying additional material to ensure that we had what we needed to complete this project on time. We very much appreciate their commitment to working alongside us,” said David McIntosh, Senior Product Development Sourcing Manager.
A significant milestone for the team was the first prototype unit which was produced by the Plexus Livingston rapid prototyping team. After 2 further prototypes and 3 rounds of design enhancements, the next 20 units were part of the products sent to the MHRA for initial approval. All this was accomplished in only 38 days after the initial specifications were received.
Our volume manufacturing team in Kelso, who had been involved since the early design stages of the project to ensure a smooth, risk free transition, were then able to complete new product introduction (NPI) builds. These NPI builds verified the design, validated the production process and help establish appropriate testing procedures.
“We worked in close collaboration with our partners at Babcock International Group to ensure that we met the rigorous quality standards associated with this product. The dedication of our manufacturing team has enabled us to meet all of our commitments for this project while also aiming to deliver zero defects to the end customer,” said Ally Johnston, UK Manufacturing Manager.
“In the space of 38 days, the electronics went from concept to the first working prototype assembly, with the transition to production following 22 days later. Only 60 days to go from idea to production,” said Anthony Green, Director of Project Management.
Green concluded, “To take a design from concept to mass production in the space of three months has only been possible by harnessing the experience of our global team and the shared vision of the partners in the consortium. The UK government confirmed in early June that they will not require the volume manufacturing to continue due to the reducing number of Covid-19 patients requiring ventilation. However, our innovative engineering, supply chain and manufacturing teams remain exceptionally proud of what was achieved. We are relieved that, in this case, the situation has improved to the extent that the ventilators will remain boxed and unused.”