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Business agility is a lifesaver

07 April 2020

As a write this while working from home, I still can’t quite get my head around these unprecedented times we find ourselves in.

I’m sure I’m as guilty as the next person in that I read the initial reports about the coronavirus in China and didn’t really give them much thought, after all, relatively recent threats from SARS and swine flu didn’t fully manifest in the West despite early fears. This time, however, with Covid-19 there really is a pandemic - and here in the UK, as in many countries, we do seem to be underprepared. Beyond the loo-roll and pasta hoarding, there are reports of frontline medical workers being woefully under protected with a lack of even the most basic PPE.

And then there are the ventilators. In more ordinary times, it’s not something you would necessarily give much thought to, but suddenly the fact the UK has between 5000-8000 ventilators is very worrying. In the light of this, the Prime Minister spoke to over sixty leading UK manufacturing businesses and organisations to call on them to help the step up production of vital medical equipment, including life-saving ventilators. As well as manufacturing the components themselves, he asked manufacturers to rise to the immediate challenge by offering skills and expertise across  any part of the process: design, procurement, assembly, testing, and shipping.

While this was greeted with a degree of scepticism in some corners - What about the correct certification for medical devices? (valid) You can’t build a ventilator on a car line! (bit defeatist) - within a matter of days progress was made and three industrial consortia from the aerospace and automotive sectors are racing to plug the gap, starting with development of a basic ventilator prototype within a week. The aim is to produce 5000 units as soon as possible, followed by a further 30,000. Manufacturing is hoped to start within a month. If this happens – and reports seem positive that, one way or another, it will – the ability of these manufacturing and engineering firms to be agile will potentially save thousands of lives.

Further down the line, once the medical emergency is over and society can get a handle on the true scale of disruption caused by Covid-19, who knows what the industrial sector will look like? I certainly wouldn't like to make any predictions, but one thing I am sure of is that agility - of thought, culture and process – will be a key quality amongst the strongest players.

Charlotte Stonestreet

Managing Editor, Industrial Plant & Equipment