ISIS technicians support rapid ventilator production
31 Mar 2020
- Rosie de Laune



Forty STFC technicians are forming part of a national collaboration that’s producing ventilators for the NHS; developing and delivering the training needed for over 300 others to carry out the necessary testing and calibration.


​John Crawford and Phil Hawkins from ISIS; Kristian Harder from the Particle Physics Department; Navid Ghorbanian and Chris Pulker from STFC's Technology department, and Angela Ashill and Reuben Chesterman from RAL Space at Penlon. ​


One of the major challenges for the UK in facing the Covid-19 pandemic is the production of ventilators, to keep patients with respiratory difficulties out of intensive care. The medical equipment manufacturer Penlon, based in Abingdon, already supplies the NHS with machines used by anaesthetists in operating theatres. After it was clear that the demand for ventilators was going to increase dramatically, the company developed a simpler device that can be produced on mass and used on a ward as a ventilator: breathing for a patient when they are unable to do it themselves.

Penlon is part of a consortium, VentilatorChallengeUK, of over 20 companies including Airbus, Ford and McLaren, who will produce the ventilators on a large scale, as featured by the BBC and the Guardian. Before the tens of thousands of ventilators can be used by the NHS, they need to be tested and calibrated, to ensure they can be delivered under the company's medical licence.

Chosen for their high level of technical skill, STFC staff members will deliver training in how to test the ventilators to over 300 staff from the other companies in the collaboration, who will then carry out the testing at Penlon's facility, and others nearby.

The first four 'super trainers' from across the RAL campus; John Crawford (ISIS), Angela George (DLS), Phil Rice (CLF) and Mark Anderson (RAL Space) spent the weekend at Penlon developing a training manual that will then be used by the STFC expert trainers. During the evenings this week, these four will use their manual to train 36 other STFC staff members, to ensure that all are capable of training others by the time the ventilators come off the production line.

The test they will be training people to carry out is 30-40 minutes long and involves testing the pressure and air flow through the ventilator while it inflates/deflates a set of steel “lungs". It is important for the STFC to ensure that all testers understand the strictness of the method and the clear boundaries that need to be followed when testing.

ISIS 'super trainer', John Crawford explains; “Our part in this huge project is to facilitate the testing and commissioning. It's daunting and was initially overwhelming, like climbing a mountain, but it's a great thing to be involved with. After the weekend, now we have the training manual developed, I can at least see a route to the top."

Training this many people this quickly is always challenging, but the team are having to ensure they maintain social distancing while doing so, to make sure they stay safe and well. This restricts the number of people who can be trained as trainers at one time. There is also currently only one prototype that they can use for this training: one is with the NHS, and another will be arriving at Penlon on Wednesday and then they should be able to speed up the rollout of this training.

“It's very hard for our team of STFC technicians to work from home, when the bulk of our roles is hands-on, based on site" says John; “so this is a good way for us all to be able to contribute." This will especially be th​e case when the testing shifts begin at Penlon, GKN, and the other testing locations nearby.

ISIS Deputy Director, and Head of ISIS Operations, Zoë Bowden said; “Our technicians are some of the best in the country, it's inspiring to see them adapt their skills so quickly to make such an important contribution at this critical time."

To see available technician roles within STFC and UKRI, please go to:​​

Contact: de Laune, Rosie (STFC,RAL,ISIS)