The Royal Academy of Engineering has given the President’s Special Awards for Pandemic Service to the team behind the UCL-Venture CPAP breathing aids. The award recognises exceptional engineering achievements in tackling COVID-19 throughout the UK.
The UCL Ventura team is a collaboration of engineers and technicians at Mercedes-AMG HPP and UCL, as well as critical care consultants at University College London Hospital. The project group reverse engineered a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) breathing aid device, gained regulatory approval for it, improved the existing model and manufactured 10,000 CPAP devices for the NHS in record time. The initiative also made the design and manufacturing information available to download at no cost; these instructions have since been downloaded by more than 1,900 organisations from 105 countries.
The positive impact of CPAP devices in treating Covid-19 patients was first discovered in China and Italy, where the device helped clinically ill patients breathe more easily through pressurised and oxygenated air. Hospital data showed that about 50 percent of patients given CPAP avoided the need for ventilation. This was not just a better outcome for the patients who could avoid invasive mechanical ventilation, but also meant that ventilators, which were in short demand, could be kept available for patients that needed them the most.
It took the UCL Ventura project group less than 100 hours from the first discussions about the concept to complete the design, production and testing of the first prototype. Overall, it took the group just four weeks from the initial meeting in mid-March until all 10,000 CPAP devices for the NHS were manufactured at the Mercedes-AMG HPP technology centre in Brixworth, UK.
Mercedes-AMG HPP normally designs and manufactures engines and powertrains for Formula One, Formula E and high-performance hybrid road cars. In order to be able to manufacture 10,000 CPAP devices as quickly as possible, the entire technology centre was repurposed. Machines which would normally be used to build components for F1 engines were re-programmed to build the CPAP device.
Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Motorsports at Formula 1 said: “As well as the foresight to identify the probable need for less invasive ventilation support… the team at UCL did something about it and committed to a programme at a point of time when some may have considered it to be, at best, speculative, but we now know to have been visionary.
“Formula 1 has an extreme culture of engineering in terms of solutions and time scales, and the fit with the UCL team was perfect. The design and delivery of 10,000 CPAP devices by HPP was in a time scale considered impossible by normal references, 15 days from the confirmation of order.”
Professor Marcel Levi, Chief Executive at UCLH, said: “This has been one of the most effective, relevant, directly applicable and fastest projects I have ever witnessed. The absolute power of the team was undoubtedly its inter-disciplinary nature, bringing together top engineers, scientists, physiologists, respiratory experts and intensive care clinicians, in combination with inventiveness, intellect, ingenuity and unlimited energy.”
Andy Cowell, Managing Director at Mercedes-AMG HPP said: “This was a hugely rewarding project to be involved in and we’re humbled to be a part of the group of engineers whose contribution is honoured by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Congratulations to all the other recipients who have done outstanding work. It’s great to see how the engineering community came together and rose to the challenge in a time of need.
“Delivering difficult technology in extremely ambitious time frames – that’s what F1 is all about. Our team is used to working long hours and delivering complex projects to tight deadlines, but this project pushed us to new limits. Everyone was working flat out and happy to go the extra mile, because we all knew how important this project was. We’re very grateful that we could make a small contribution to the giant task that this pandemic presents.”
Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium also among the awardees
The Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium has also received the President’s Special Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering. This initiative comprises of 33 businesses which worked together to produce more than 13,000 ventilator devices for the NHS. The project group was supported by a large group of volunteers who helped to ramp up the production of ventilators. Among the volunteers is a group of almost 50 members of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team who dedicated their time and effort to help this important initiative.
List of award recipients for the UCL Ventura project:
Andy Cowell (Mercedes-AMG HPP), Ben Hodgkinson (Mercedes-AMG HPP), Pierre Godof (Mercedes-AMG HPP), Prof Rebecca Shipley (UCL Healthcare Engineering), Prof Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Prof David Lomas (School of Life and Medical Sciences), Prof Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine and UCLH Critical Care), Dr Tom Peach (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Dr Tom Rushton (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Mr Peter Weston (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Dr David Brealey (UCL Medicine and UCLH Critical Care).