UK’s Underwater Engineering Industry Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published:  08 April, 2020

The UK’s underwater engineering industry is exploring ways in which it can transfer its expertise to help support the national effort to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Industry body, Subsea UK, says that underwater engineering companies have the relevant products and manufacturing expertise, particularly in breathing apparatus and life support equipment, valves, and control systems, to answer the call for help from the UK and Scottish Governments. Indeed, one of Subsea UK’s members, JFD Global, has already stepped up to develop and bring to market a revolutionary respiratory ventilator.

Giovanni Corbetta, managing director of JFD Global, says: “We are using all our experience as a global leader in the development of breathing apparatus and life support equipment to come up with the best possible solution for patients, doctors and healthcare systems. What we have developed is a highly flexible, modular ventilator that is safe, efficient and can be manufactured and deployed rapidly across the globe. Our aim is to take some of the intense pressure off ICU treatment facilities in the coming critical weeks and help save lives, as the virus approaches its peak in many countries.”

Other companies are exploring how standard diving equipment could be adapted to meet current medical needs and providing drive systems for medical equipment.

Viewport3, an Aberdeen-based specialist in 3D scanning for the subsea industry is using its 3D print design expertise to create a template for adaptors to connect equipment from the diving or C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure) industries to be used as a moderate form of ventilation or respiration.

Richard Drennan, Viewport3 director, says: “We routinely deploy 3D printers offshore, allowing us to resolve challenges on location without having to ship equipment. We have now turned our focus to creating a suitable design and post-print workflow which could be easily replicated by others.

“Each adaptor would require around four hours print time and 30 minutes of post-print assembly, meaning what we can produce using our own equipment is minimal. However, fused deposition modelling (FDM) 3D printers are what 99% of small companies or hobbyists will have at hand, so a clear ready-to-use design and post-print instructions could mean the capability exists to print hundreds of adaptors up and down the UK, serving local care providers.”

Maxon, a Swiss developer and manufacturer of drive systems used in various industries, is a long-time partner of leading medical technology firms worldwide. Based in Berkshire in the UK, their products are already used in medical devices such as ventilators, respirators, protection masks and lab automation.

William Mason, managing director, said: “During these unprecedented times, we are fully focused on supporting the companies producing these lifesaving devices so desperately needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have launched a ‘medical fast track’ process to ensure the best possible service for critical application needs. Our group management team reviews each request in real-time and matches the need with a solution, prioritising manufacturing efforts globally to ensure product production and shipment to our medical essential customers is done rapidly.”

Subsea UK, which represents the UK’s £7.8 billion subsea industry, is currently gathering intelligence on how other firms could assist in the fight against COVID19 but also on the impact of the pandemic and the collapse in oil price on its 300 member companies.

Neil Gordon, Subsea UK chief executive, says: “At a time of such great uncertainty across the globe, both medically and economically, it is heartening to hear how subsea companies are rapidly responding to the critical healthcare call to action. We will continue to work with the industry and government to identify areas in which our skills and expertise can be best put to use in tackling the pandemic.

“We’ve also been working closely with organisations, such as OGUK and the OGA, to inform Government of the specific economic challenges facing the sector and to seek clarity for subsea businesses on the measures in place to support them and on the guidance for them in continuing with critical operations.”

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