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Press release: Quick Release_ and Newton support Penlon to significantly increase ventilator production in response to COVID-19

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Consultancies share how they’ve been working as part of the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium to ramp-up production from 60 ventilators to 1,500 per week.


London, 1 May 2020: Product data management (PDM) specialists Quick Release_ and operational consultancy Newton Europe have joined forces to support the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium in the national response to COVID-19. Their combined expertise in operational excellence, supply chain mobilisation and transformation programme management have played a pivotal role in rapidly increasing production of Penlon’s ESO2 device – the first emergency ventilator to reach UK hospitals.

The Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium is a large group of companies that have come together to produce medical ventilators for the UK. The businesses involved are industrial, technology and engineering companies from across the automotive, aviation and medical sectors. There are several groups involved within the challenge, with Newton and Quick Release_ working in the Penlon group.  

Based in Oxfordshire, the Penlon group achieved approval from the UK’s healthcare regulator for its ESO2 device, adapted from existing anaesthesia products, last month. Penlon has since received a formal order from the Government for 15,000 machines.

Penlon and another specialist manufacturer Smiths are usually able to produce between 50-60 ventilators per week. However, thanks to the scale and resources of the wider consortium, the companies are targeting a combined output of at least 1,500 units a week. 

This significant ramp-up in production has been made possible by combining specialist product knowledge and engineering skill with the physical assets and human resources of large companies such as Ford, Airbus and DHL

Quick Release_ and Newtons' responsibility can be broadly split into two areas. The first phase looked at identifying the fastest route to regulatory sign-off and then driving urgency behind the critical tasks. The consultancies then shifted their focus to look at unblocking the rate-limiting parts or processes needed for high-volume manufacture – smoothing the way for factories across the country to build ventilators at pace. 

To overcome the barriers of scaling production in such a complex and fast-moving environment, Quick Release_ and Newton deployed experts to design the right analytical tools, implement processes and facilitate effective communication across multiple businesses to quickly fix issues that may impact production. For example, when the team discovered a critical part was being produced below the required rate, they found a new supplier who could produce at a higher frequency, validated their quality assurance process, checked their samples and reviewed their capability to onboard them within just 24 hours.  

The team has also ensured the transfer of skills and knowledge from a small number of staff at Penlon to thousands of people across the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium. To help with this, resources are being provided to train over 300 new staff, with support being provided to many more people. In addition, the team further optimised production by bringing in staff to work at different times of the day and sourced the necessary facilities for them to work under social distancing requirements.  

Tom Wedgwood, founding director of Newton, said: “This is the single biggest manufacturing challenge I’ve ever seen – in fact, it’s the challenge of a lifetime.  

“Developing a new ventilator design and achieving certification is an achievement in itself. But assembling a consortium of 12 businesses, with nine new sites, over 2,000 people, building a global supply chain and scaling-up from producing tens of machines to thousands per week – all in the space of two months – is unprecedented.  

“This was only possible due to the strong leadership and teamwork of everyone involved, as well as the group being aligned to a single goal. There were no egos, everyone shared information and we all harnessed our different strengths. It’s inspirational what can be achieved when there’s the right team with the right values all driving towards a focused goal.

“The work the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium is delivering will undoubtedly save lives and I’m immensely proud of the role the Newton team is playing.” 

Ian Quest, Quick Release_ director, said: “Sprinting a marathon is a fitting analogy for what the consortium’s achieved in just four weeks; a more usual development and approval timeframe would be around 18 months, so delivering the first shipment in around 6% of the regular time is a credit to all involved.

We’ve focused on curating information that can inform and drive action, rather than merely report. The foundation of this is product data quality, which is where our Bill of Materials (BoM) management and validation work has paid dividends across the whole project cycle. Similarly, the lightweight Material Requirements Planning (MRP) system coded from scratch in under a week focuses on what is needed to drive action, and no more.

"Of course, while systems and data flows can inform decisions, actions are driven by people. We've put a lot of emphasis on getting the processes right around change management and deviation sign-offs, assembly training and reference materials for those rotating onto the project. A dedicated PDM function has released engineers to focus on the product, not the data.”

Dick Elsy, head of the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium and CEO of High Value Manufacturing Catapult, said: “Newton and Quick Release’s work to define and manage the end-to-end process meant the Penlon consortium could be clear on how dozens of companies across the consortium would come together to increase production at pace.

“When the call came from the Government, it meant that specialist manufacturers such as Penlon and Smiths needed to significantly ramp-up production of a complex device at a rate never seen before. Newton and Quick Release’s support in making data-driven decisions has quickly resolved any bottlenecks and meant the consortium companies have been able to get on with building the parts needed in record time. The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium is an example of the UK’s finest engineering firms coming together in the fight against COVID-19.”




About Quick Release_

Quick Release_ is the leading Product Data Management consultancy. 250 professionals across three continents work alongside some of the largest, most innovative and prestigious vehicle manufacturers, aerospace technologists and Tier 1 suppliers.

Our mission is to enhance competitive advantage by bringing products to market faster and more efficiently. We do this by improving product data quality and flow through every part of a business from concept to manufacture, working with senior management teams to tackle the biggest blockers of productivity; we release engineers to focus on the product, not the data.

Leveraging bespoke tools, methodologies and benchmarking, our professionals offer the full spectrum of PDM services designed to guide start-ups through the unknown unknowns, take businesses looking to scale to the next level, and facilitate transformation in established manufacturing and technology OEMs.

Service provision is diverse and closely tailored to individual project requirements, but in every case focuses on releasing business value through optimised PDM. Quick Release_ can operate in an advisory capacity, deliver results-based work packages or plug capacity and capability gaps as required. Unlike many PLM consultants, we combine big picture insights with the ability to unobtrusively implement meaningful and measurable improvements around existing systems and processes.

Additional background is available through the Climb In Consulting podcast, and this Automotive Manufacturing Solutions article.  

QR_ media enquiries: Jonathan Noy, Marketing & PR Manager or [DE]: Nadine Michel, DACH Press Officer


About Newton

Founded in 2001 and now with over 350 employees, Newton Europe cracks some of the toughest challenges across the public sector and industry. To date, Newton has saved clients over £1 billion. We are driven by the fundamental belief that every organisation can be better.

Newton has designed and implemented highly complex operational transformation programmes by working in partnership with clients, taking a bottom-up, frontline-led approach to delivering change. Newton’s data-driven and evidence based-methodology, underpinned by solid engineering and digital principles, means we develop an in-depth understanding of our clients’ people and processes, and use this insight as an enabler to the operational and behavioural changes needed to solve them.

Our approach generates sustainable results and real financial and operational improvement for some of the world’s most successful and innovative organisations. Our clients include NHS hospitals, local authorities, defence programmes and high-street retailers.

Newton media enquiries: Adam Craig, Head of Corporate, Storm Communications


Key firms involved in Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium include  

Arrow Electronics 
BAE Systems
Dell Technologies
Ford Motor Company
GKN Aerospace
High Value Manufacturing Catapult
Inspiration Healthcare Group
Siemens Healthineers and Siemens UK
Smiths Group
STI Limited
Ultra Electronics
UK-based F1 teams: Haas F1, Mercedes, Racing Point, Williams
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