Dick Elsy was looking forward to retirement from his job running Europe's largest advanced manufacturing research institution. Then, the coronavirus arrived and sent the 60-year-old into a 12-week sprint of marathon workdays.
Faced with a shortage of ventilators as the number of COVID-19 cases was growing, the UK government in early March rallied the nation's private sector to repurpose factories and R&D centers to build the lifesaving medical equipment.
The need was urgent and daunting. Hospitals had about 6,000 ventilators, but the government's COVID-19 modeling suggested about 20,000 would be needed to handle the expected volume of critically ill patients.
Elsy, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, hit pause on his retirement plans and rolled up his sleeves to help tackle the national health emergency.
The former Jaguar Land Rover and BMW executive organized the VentilatorChallengeUK — a consortium of 33 businesses from the aerospace, automotive, motorsport and medical sectors that marshaled their factories and work forces to assemble ventilators.
"We help companies with complex manufacturing technologies," Elsy said of his day job running the research center. "I knew the sort of people to get together to rise to this challenge."
Over three months, industrial powerhouses such as Airbus, Ford and Siemens came together to turbocharge production of two ventilator devices. One was an existing design made by Smiths Group, the other a new device based on an adaptation of technology from a small anesthesia equipment maker, Penlon.