Rising to the challenge

From large corporations to family-run concerns, Lancashire’s manufacturers have answered the call and turned their efforts to the national fight against coronavirus.

Factories have swiftly switched production to help deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) for the NHS. Others have been making parts for vital ventilators or supporting the creation of the new critical care Nightingale Hospitals.

The Altham-based Senator Group delivered around 7,000 items of furniture to the new hospitals in Birmingham, Manchester and existing NHS facilities. Further orders have also been completed for the Nightingale Hospital in Glasgow.

Robert Mustoe, managing director of the furniture firm, said workers and suppliers were “doing their bit” to keep its factories moving and products flowing.

He added: “We are extremely proud to work with the NHS and to be able to support them at this time and we thank our staff for the extraordinary effort they are putting into their work to fulfil these vital orders.”

Darwen-based engineering and fabrication company WEC Group joined other UK manufacturers in the national effort to build more ventilators for the NHS as well as key medical equipment for the Nightingale Hospitals.

Despite the new challenging lockdown restrictions and social distancing rules it repurposed some of its manufacturing facilities to help the fight against the virus. 

In situations like this, times of national emergency, everyone has to play their part

That includes producing parts for the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, tasked with producing 10,000 ventilators to the NHS on a tight timeframe.

The consortium, spearheaded by some of Britain’s best-known companies, including BAE Systems and Airbus, has leveraged its significant UK industrial, technology and engineering expertise to rise up to this mammoth task.

BAE’s role has been to help ramp up production of a proven ventilator design, which has been supplied by a leading UK medical company to help those suffering from the virus.

WEC’s laser engineering division manufactured and dispatched its first order of parts just 24 hours after receiving an initial inquiry. It then moved on to larger batch production.

Group commercial director Wayne Wild said: “After superb first response from our marketing and sales teams to offer our full range of services to the new ventilator supply chain, we’ve managed to secure some key contracts for the NHS and we’re very proud to help the cause in lots of different areas by producing parts and equipment to fight the virus.

“We are also immensely proud of our team who worked around the clock to meet a hugely ambitious timeframe.”

The group has also been working for an existing client to manufacture key medical equipment for Birmingham’s Nightingale Hospital at the NEC. That included parts that were fabricated in just four working days.

Burnley-based uPVC window system company VEKA also re-opened part of its factory to supply a material essential in the manufacture of building components used in establishing the temporary large-scale critical care hospitals.

Meanwhile, Padiham-headquartered What More UK has retooled and switched its production from plastic storage boxes to the creation of much-needed PPE.

Managing director Andy Holt announced the business would be producing parts for safety visors at a rate of 60,000 week “until the country has enough”.

One member of staff, commenting on Twitter, summed up the feeling of the workforce, saying: “I can’t remember feeling this proud. In normal times it’s just a piece of plastic. Now it’s a lifesaver.”

Company director Tony Grimshaw added: “In situations like this, times of national emergency, everyone has to play their part. We are proud of the way the nation has responded to this challenge and we are pleased to be able to offer our skills and expertise.”

Leading Burnley additive manufacturer FDM Digital Solutions has been using 3D printing technology to create PPE face mask parts. And another business in the town, Lancashire Textiles, has also turned its hand to PPE production.

And it doesn’t end there. Lancaster-based Hotfoot Design’s senior developer Niall Robertson has been busy using his 3D printing equipment at home to make protective face visors for frontline NHS staff.

A batch has already been delivered to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and to district nurses in the city, with more to follow.

Preston-based upholsterers and sofa cover maker Plumbs donated 600 metres of fabric to make PPE. It was given to a local community initiative which is using sewers  based at home to produce essential items such as scrubs, scrub bags, headbands and ear savers.

The fabric was cut on their machines to return to the group for sewing. A small team of staff volunteered to come into Plumbs’ factory to help operate the machines, with the appropriate health and safety measures in place.

Members of the Plumbs production team were also inspired to help, and many have dusted off their sewing machines at home to take on batches of the essential goods which will go to hospitals and medical facilities in the area.

As well as supporting the national ventilator effort, British Aerospace, which has operations in Samlesbury and Warton, is aiming to deliver more than 145,000 face shields to the frontline in the coming weeks.

All its industrial-scale 3D printers are now producing the PPE equipment, with supplies being delivered every day, directly to frontline medical staff around the UK. It is also sourcing tens of thousands of additional face shields through its supply chain.

Innovative ‘door claws’ that help care  homes reduce the spread of infection through door handles are also being made by the defence giant.

Technology director Dave Short said: “We’ve all been moved by the personal bravery of those working in the NHS who face the virus close up every day, so we wanted to help in any way we could.

“Our employees heard about the need for face shields, so we looked for the quickest way to get effective products to users.

“At the same time as talking to suppliers, colleagues from our technology team and our Air sector joined forces to design and manufacture our first 3D printed face shield in less than 24 hours.

“We kept in constant dialogue with our NHS contacts to ensure this met their requirements and had the first shields with them in less than two days.”

Its Samlesbury operation has so far supplied 4,500 pieces of PPE to Royal Preston Hospital, 5,000 to Blackpool Victoria and 500 to the Royal Blackburn. On top of that 1,200 have gone to the North West Ambulance Service in Preston. Worden Medical Centre in Leyland and Harbour Hospital, Blackpool, are among other health facilities and services in the county to receive deliveries.

The speed of reaction across the county has been impressive. Blackburn-based Community Clothing has been using its facilities to produce 2,500 pairs of scrubs for the NHS, setting up the operation in just three days.

Company founder Patrick Grant said: “I am incredibly proud of all the staff involved in what has been a monumental effort: Three days for a process that would normally take about three months, and all achieved under incredibly strict new working practices, at a great time of personal anxiety to many.

“This crisis is terrible, but if any good comes of it perhaps it might be that it brings home to us, in a way that perhaps nothing else could have, that people who know how to make things are of vital importance, that they deserve our absolute respect, and they deserve to be valued.”

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