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UK manufacturers to use 3D-printing to build ventilators for NHS

Workers on the production line at Nissan's factory in Sunderland after they were told that the car manufacturer is to end the night shift at its UK plant.
Several car manufacturers have offered to help in the combined effort to produce thousands of ventilators for the NHS. (PA)

UK manufacturers such as Vauxhall and Airbus (AIR.PA) are planning to repurpose their factories and utilise 3D-printing technology to create parts for ventilators to treat coronavirus patients.

Prime minister Boris Johnson appealed to companies to help in a “wartime” effort to help produce 20,000 ventilators in as little as two weeks in a call that has seen a response from over 60 firms.

Carmaker Vauxhall, owned by the French automotive group PSA (UG.PA), has offered to 3D-print parts and assemble the much-needed medical devices at its Ellesmere Port plant, which is due to be shut as a car manufacturing site until 27 March due to coronavirus fears.

Read more: Coronavirus forces Airbus to pause production in Spain and France

The car factory’s paint shops, could be used for production of the ventilators as they have similar controlled-environment conditions to those required for the manufacture of medical equipment.

“We are experts at assembly and efficient mass production; we know how to process and we know how to make it lean,” Helen Foord, head of government relations at Vauxhall, told The Guardian.

“We’ve offered our services as an assembly plant and we have 3D-printing capability at Ellesmere Port too.”

Some of the UK’s leading companies in engineering, the automotive sector and aerospace already use 3D-printing technology and sophisticated computer-aided design software in the manufacturing of their own products so are in a good position to help with the joint efforts.

The manufacturers will be provided with technical drawings by the public research and development body Innovate UK and the efforts will be overseen by PA Consulting, a global consultancy firm that has worked with Richard Branson on high-speed transport project Virgin Hyperloop One and has also helped the UK Space Agency design a regulator for space travel.

A source at another company told The Guardian that it was unlikely the companies would charge for lending their equipment or employees. “It’s a bit of a wartime footing,” they said. However, it is thought that the government will pay for finished ventilators.

Read more: Coronavirus forces carmakers to shut plants in Europe

Other car makers such as Rolls-Royce (RR.L) and Jaguar Land Rover (TTM), have also offered their assistance in the making of the ventilators and the aerospace multinational Airbus asked its engineering and technology teams to explore ways to help the government equip the NHS for a jump in patient numbers, with options understood to include the 3D-printing of parts.

Breas UK, a specialist firm that makes ventilators, said it had raised levels of staffing and was increasing production to a seven-day working week to manage the surge in demand.

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