Coronavirus: Mercedes F1 engineers help develop coronavirus ventilator alternative with London university

These machines work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate

CPAP machines are widely used by doctors to support patients in hospitals or at homes with breathing difficulties. Courtesy UCL
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As the coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt supply chains and cause a shortage of ventilators globally, a team of Mercedes F1 engineers has joined forces with the University College London to mass-produce continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.

CPAP machines are widely used by doctors to support patients in hospitals or at homes with breathing difficulties.

These devices are in short supply in the UK hospitals, so engineers at UCL and Mercedes worked "round-the-clock to reverse engineer a device that could be manufactured rapidly by the thousands", UCL said in a statement.

“This was achieved in a rapid time-frame – it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. The device was then further refined to consume up to 70 per cent less oxygen.”

CPAP machines work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the lungs.

Whereas, invasive ventilators deliver breaths directly into the lungs, but require heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient’s windpipe.

“These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill,” said UCL Hospital critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer.

“We and others are finding that a significant proportion of patients treated with CPAP can avoid mechanical ventilation.”

Following an approval from the regulator, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the UK government placed an order for up to 10,000 devices.

To help meet the global demand, the designs and manufacturing instructions have been made available to governments, manufacturers, academics and health experts for free across the world.

As of April 15, these instructions have been downloaded by 1,445 approved teams in 105 countries, according to the UCL.

“We have received an incredible number of enquiries about the CPAP device from around the world,” said Andy Cowell, managing director of Mercedes, adding, “Making the design and manufacturing specifications openly available will allow companies around the world to produce these devices at speed and at scale to support the global response to Covid-19.”

This project was started last month when Tim Baker, a professor at UCL’s mechanical engineering department, met Mr Cowell and explored the idea.

In four weeks, more than 10,000 machines have been delivered at different hospitals in the UK. Mercedes has repurposed its entire facility in Northampton to produce at least 1,000 devices in a day.

Industry experts say that the device has no moving parts that makes it easier to copy designs using 3D computer modelling technique.

A team of engineers from Bahrain’s International Circuit (BIC) has also designed ventilators from scratch and has already received first order for new machines. The team worked with respiratory therapy, intensive care and medical equipment specialists and doctors from Salmaniya Medical complex to create the device, designed for use by non-critical patients who require respiratory assistance, BIC said last week.

The engineers took just under two weeks to design the two different ventilators. Both devices have been approved for use by Bahrain’s Ministry of Health, which has placed an order for 100 machines. The machines have been designed and produced on site at the Grand Prix circuit, echoing the British Project Pitlane initiative involving seven Formula 1 teams working on ventilators.

Globally, many car makers have reinvented themselves as medical-equipment manufacturer. Ford, Lamborghini, Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra are all working on medical solutions to help stop the spread of contagion.

The US earlier this month awarded General Motors and its partner Ventec Life Systems a $489.4 million (Dh1.7 billion) contract to make 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. Production will start next week, a GM spokesman said, and the car maker and Ventec will deliver a fifth of the breathing machines they’re building for the Health and Human Services Department by June 1, the company said at the time.

Worldwide, there are more than 2.7 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 190,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker as of Saturday. More than 781,000 have recovered.