GAMBICA is a membership organisation that takes great pride in the work of its members to champion UK manufacturing. As the pandemic hit last year, two of them – Siemens and Manchester Metropolitan University – teamed up to tackle a major challenge the NHS faced at the time: a lack of ventilators. Statistics showed that only around 8,000 ventilators were available when, based on predictions, an estimated 18,000 would be needed within two months.
To address this, a large group of companies came together under the Ventilator UK Challenge, with Siemens being one of the key consortium partners.
Demonstrating the power of teamwork, engineering and digital tools, the collaborative helped design and build a factory from scratch, and scale production from 10 ventilators to 1,500 per week, within four weeks, a process that normally takes more than 12 months. The historic effort met the brief, saved lives and helped ensure the NHS did not run out of ventilators during the pandemic.
Manchester Metropolitan University is focused on bridging the digital skills gap through its focus on Industry 4.0 and industrial digitalisation, and to that end, it is one of the founding university partners in the Connected Curriculum.
Connected Curriculum brings partner universities together with Siemens and German automation company Festo, to ensure that academia and industry are aligned and that students are gaining the skills and knowledge industries are looking for in the new digital world. It bundles industrial hardware and software with simulation environments, data, curriculum examples, case studies and real-life problem-solving tutorials.
Similar to the situation the Ventilator UK Challenge consortium faced, universities had to meet the challenge to shift to fully online learning and create new content suitable for a digital environment that was still engaging.
A team of academics at Manchester Metropolitan University, led by Aris Alexoulis and Gary Dougil, worked with the Siemens Connected Curriculum team, engineers and apprentices to develop a challenge for students based on the Ventilator Challenge, and which could be embedded into the curriculum. The challenge was embedded in the second-year group engineering project unit, where teams of students from different engineering disciplines are formed to address industry-led challenges. Because of the pandemic, the university switched to a block delivery approach and units were delivered in six-week blocks.
This is a great example of the dynamic culture within the university, and the willingness to engage with industry and move at pace to implement new initiatives. The Department of Engineering has very strong links with industry and has a particularly active industrial advisory board, with collaboration happening on numerous fronts to help students develop skills for their future careers.
The ventilator challenge project was very popular among students, with the demand to join the project exceeding capacity. Participants were asked to design a manufacturing process that would produce more than 10,000 ventilators within a 12-week period: at their disposal were the Medtronic Open Source Ventilator design, a budget of £50 million, and an option of two assembly locations. Medtronic made the design of its ventilator freely available online during the pandemic so that ventilators could be produced to help save lives.
The students were also provided with access to Siemens Tecnomatix, Siemens’s in-house plant simulation software, which they had not used before. They also had access to Siemens training content for Tecnomatix through Siemens Xcelerator Academy, and support from the academic team at Manchester Met and Siemens engineers and apprentices.
All groups were successful in designing manufacturing processes that met the requirements of the brief. To do this, the students had to firstly calculate the process times using the Methods Time Movement – Universal Analyzing System (MTM-UAS) by breaking down the instructions for station operators in the manufacturing documents provided by Medtronic to individual movements. Once process times have been obtained a calculation of the talk time was performed.
Various shift patterns were considered, all in compliance with current UK regulations. Subsequently, an iterative simulation process was carried out using Tecnomatix for the assembly process to meet the desired takt time, while also producing a realistic model. Examples of additional considerations were workstation design, plant location selection and layout, Covid-secure measures (such as social distancing) and full product costing.
The groups of students worked together remotely, most of them never meeting physically during the entire project. They developed new skills that are in high demand in industry, such as being able to create a digital twin of a shopfloor environment and virtual commissioning.
This alliance is just one of many examples that demonstrate how UK industries, when called upon, can work together to conquer unforeseen obstacles. This has led to some students pursuing careers in manufacturing. These are our future leaders of the industry, and they will be the champions that drive the digitalisation of manufacturing.