Dyson plans to manufacture 15,000 medical ventilators designed from scratch, following a call from the prime minister for British industry to supply the National Health Service with equipment to fight coronavirus.
The appliances maker told staff it had received a UK government order for 10,000 of the devices and aims to begin delivering them “in weeks”, contingent on regulatory approval it expects to obtain on Friday.
Billionaire founder Sir James Dyson is to pay for a further 5,000 to be made, of which 4,000 will be donated to other countries.
Ventilators support patients with acute respiratory difficulties, which occurs in severe cases of the Covid-19 virus that has now killed more than 450 people in Britain.
The NHS has access to 8,175 ventilators but the government has indicated that 60,000 are needed in total, up from a previous estimate of 30,000, according to one person involved in the procurement process. The shortfall is difficult to plug because the UK is not a major manufacturer of the equipment.
As countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak scramble to source the life-saving machines, companies from the automotive, aerospace and engineering sectors have been working on various plans, including another “clean sheet” blueprint by Meggitt, the aircraft parts maker.
Dyson’s CoVent model was developed in 10 days in conjunction with The Technology Partnership, a medical devices company based in Cambridge. The vacuum company declined to disclose the financial arrangements of the government deal, though it said it does not expect to make a profit on the ventilators.
In an email to staff seen by the Financial Times, Sir James wrote: “This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume. It is designed to address the specific clinical needs of Covid-19 patients, and it is suited to a variety of clinical settings.
“The core challenge was how to design and deliver a new, sophisticated medical product in volume and in an extremely short space of time. The race is now on to get it into production.”
The government said it had received an overwhelming response from businesses. It is now testing proof of concepts from a number of suppliers with the support of clinicians, though any orders are dependent on machines passing regulatory tests.
Dyson, known for its floor cleaners, hair dryers and air purifiers, is looking to assemble the ventilators at its research centre at Hullavington, Wiltshire, located on the site of a former Royal Air Force base.
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They will contain Dyson motors that are made in Singapore, where the company was planning to manufacture an electric car until the programme was scrapped last year. Dyson’s other products are made in Asia.
Ministers have already given the green light to an aerospace-automotive consortium, called Ventilator Challenge UK, to accelerate production of two existing machines that are made domestically, subject to regulatory approval.
One is a transport ventilator produced in Luton by Smiths Group, which is typically deployed in ambulances. It is quadrupling output to about 200 to 300 a week, with the possibility of expanding production at factories owned by GKN and Airbus. The other model, made by Penlon in Oxfordshire, will be modified for use on more acute patients.