3rd Apr, 2020

From vacuums to ventilators in COVID-19 fight

Rob George 23rd Mar, 2020

“AT FIRST I thought it was a hoax – being asked if I could assist in making up to 30,000 medical ventilators in as little as two weeks.”

While Nick Grey’s reaction to being asked to join the fight against COVID-19 may not have been serious, the owner of Worcester-based Gtech has now taken to the frontline in the Coronavirus crisis.

The Spetchley firm has moved from vacuums to ventilators, devoting all of their working hours to manufacturing the life-saving equipment in a matter of days.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock made a public plea for help after it became apparent the UK would not have enough ventilators to cope with the expected numbers of patients with serious COVID-19 symptoms.

Mr Grey began working on the project after being contacted by Gareth Rhys Williams, Government Chief Commercial Officer in the early hours of last Sunday morning (March 15).

“When I realised that this was a genuine need I felt compelled to help,” he said.

Nick spent Sunday learning how ventilators worked and on Monday tasked Gtech’s engineering and model making team to tackle the challenge. He also bought a ventilator off eBay and arranged for it to be collected first thing Monday morning.

There were quite a lot of problems; oxygen is a very reactive gas, which rules out many motors and electrical devices.

Normal air operated cylinders can only run on air, not pure oxygen so they could not be used.

The breakthrough was to repurpose an everyday syringe into an oxygen-powered ram. A valve directs oxygen into the syringe which squeezes a self-inflating air container delivering 400ml of air directly to the patients’ lungs. A second syringe acts as a timer and once the ‘breath’ has been delivered resets the ram ready for the next cycle.

In order to save and conserve oxygen, the waste gas is fed into a reservoir to enrich the patients’ air supply.The ventilator is driven and controlled entirely from the hospital oxygen supply without the need for electricity.

The number of cycles per minute, volume of air delivered, and the pressure of the air can all be controlled according to patient’s needs.

“We designed the ventilator entirely from parts which can readily be made from stock materials or bought off-the-shelf. This means if government approves and wants Gtech ventilators they can be made by almost any engineering and manufacturing company,” he said.

“Gtech could produce around 100 per day within a week or two providing we could find steel fabrication and CNC machining companies to help us make some of the parts”.

Gtech plan to submit their designs to government for assessment.

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