The engineering response to the sudden demands of the coronavirus was inspiring. Whether building ventilators, making personal protective equipment or creating new hospital capacity, companies and institutions from across the spectrum came together in a spirit of collaboration.
Even firms traditionally seen as rivals came together, demonstrating what can be achieved when looking beyond profit margins.
Collaboration forged new connections that will carry over into the post-pandemic world, said IMechE member and Oxford professor Mark Thompson, who led the Oxvent ventilator project. “The crisis has provided the ideal conditions within which an engineering perspective can flourish, because it provides wider adoption of the supportive and collaborative principles which engineers work by,” he said. “I think everyone will carry forward with them the experience of how they responded. In that sense it will irrevocably change the way that the networks are put together.”
Need for speed
Engineers demonstrated their full capacity when restrictions were lifted, creating prototypes in days and complete devices in weeks. Of course, fast-track routes will be tightened after the pandemic, but with other huge and pressing challenges – climate change, for example – governments and regulators have no excuses for constraining work.
“What we’ve achieved in about four or five weeks would normally take about two-and-a-half years – really quick decision-making, engineering requalification of components, supply-chain sourcing,” said Sam Turner, chief technology officer for the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a leading member of the Ventilator Challenge UK. “It’s an amazing response, and a great example of how engineers can respond, when some of the barriers are removed, really quickly.”
A Professional Engineering survey found that 18% of respondents reported no impact on their efficiency while working at home, with a similar number reporting no negative impact on their ability to perform technical engineering tasks. Engineering companies may well reflect on this and take the opportunity to maintain home-working for some employees.
Workers returning to the office, workshop or factory might also find big changes. Some firms could introduce wearable devices to maintain ‘social distancing’, for example.
After the pain and suffering caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, governments must take steps to prevent similar outbreaks. There will be increased demand for engineering that fights, prevents and treats diseases, such as ventilators, anti-bacterial surfaces, temperature monitoring devices and other high-tech solutions.
Thanks to the good work already done by many manufacturers to pivot production, some companies might make a permanent shift towards technology that helps save lives.
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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.