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Thales links up with partners to boost the supply chain for the Ventilator Challenge

Last week we highlighted how Thales has developed digital training guides to help both NHS staff and manufacturers, new to critical care and ventilators, to get to grips with the Smiths ParaPAC ventilators. But there is much more to our role in the Ventilator Challenge.

As part of the UK Ventilator Challenge, we have been responsible for all the Printed Circuit Board Assemblies (PCBA) needed for production, and have worked closely with NEMCO, the incumbent supplier to Smiths, to increase their industrial capability to manufacture the required volume needed in a very short timeframe. In this post we will discuss how it has been one colossal effort for us and our supply chain to make all this possible. 

Supporting the supply chain

At Thales we are no stranger to working with industry partners to bring projects to life over time. But with COVID-19 at large, time is a precious resource, and as such we have worked non-stop with NEMCO, to achieve steady state manufacturing in just three weeks.

The enormous effort has not gone without its challenges though. To understand fully the ferocity of the challenge, first and foremost, it is important to understand what parts are needed, how many and where to source from. So, in saying that, the first test we faced was in the availability of electronic components. The geographical scale of this global crisis quickly saw demand for vital supplies outpace supply with nearly every country also in a race to source the parts needed to overcome the COVID-19 crisis. Looking at ventilators in particular, Thales worked with six different suppliers to source 1.8 million electronic components, with 36,000 parts to be manufactured from those.

The nature of managing the effort, and speeding up the process, meant the consortium faced an issue on scaling up resources, and quickly. Each manufacturing facility required a replication of the manufacturing and test set up from existing Suppliers, meaning that Thales had to set up and create new tests sets for each supplier that we dealt with. These additional Suppliers in the UK were paramount in order to increase resilience in manufacturing, in case of an outbreak in a facility. Thales designed and manufactured test sets in less than a week to support this testing set up.

Trusting each other to get the job done

Another key challenge to understand is the issue and impact social distancing had on the project. With most people working remotely, it meant a lot of trust and faith had to be given to each part of the supply chain, from the suppliers of the components, to the manufacturing companies and assembly workers. Each of us had to trust every element of the supply chain would stand up and it is ultimately showed that the UK’s manufacturing capabilities are strong.

Caroline Quill, Head of the Technical Directorate, Innovation and Growth, Flight Avionics, Thales said: 

“It’s been amazing to see the collective effort that’s gone in to ensuring not only could we set up the supply chain quickly, but keep it running smoothly. What has made me the most proud is the personal stories of seeing people going the extra mile, from parents working through the night having taken care of kids and elderly relatives during the day, to those with loved ones on ventilators themselves. Every company we’ve worked with too has been so willing to help and have truly gone to enormous lengths, beyond anything we’ve asked. This challenge has asked difficult questions of our capabilities, but it shows what we can do if we put our minds to it and come together for a good cause.”

Find out more about Caroline's involvement here and also see Ian DeWalley and Steven Waterman's roles in the Ventilator Challenge.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread, Thales employees are fully mobilised in the battle to overcome the virus and deal with its consequences. Find out what Thales is doing as a company and how individual employees are showing their solidarity by lending technical expertise and innovative ideas here.