Covid-19: Meeting the challenges through Engineering

I was president of the IET for 2016-17, and have been asked by government to gather practical and innovative ideas from our Engineering communities. So, please enter any ideas you might have in this thread that might help address and mitigate the Covid-19 crisis. Ideas might include digital tracking / monitoring through therapy equipment and beyond. Even ideas outside your usual expertise domain will be welcome. Now’s the time for Engineering to show we can change the world!
  • A group of data experts are offering their help over on LinkedIn.

    Is there anyway of unlocking this thread so it's visible without an IET login? Would help it gain more traction,
  • If the PEIs and EC could facilitate links between suppliers of medical equipment who are unable to meet demand, and manufacturers with strong experience in safety critical / mission critical equipment who could subcontract supply them then that would be a great service.

    This will be challenging for manufacturers of medical equipment who are not set up to manage third party manufacturing in terms of regulatory compliance, again the PEIs and EC could facilitate linking such manufacturers with appropriate training / consultancy organisations.

    In the railway signalling industry I know of cases where we've used manufacturers of medical equipment as sub suppliers, on the basis that they have experience in the control of manufacture of life critical equipment. So it ought to be able to work the other way around given some determination to make it work. The challenge is helping the right people find each other.


  • i think Andy's hit the nail on the head here.

    Andy Millar:

    If the PEIs and EC could facilitate links between suppliers of medical equipment who are unable to meet demand, and manufacturers with strong experience in safety critical / mission critical equipment who could subcontract supply them then that would be a great service.

    .... The challenge is helping the right people find each other

    I had the same thought earlier after seeing this update from KTN: stating

    ...we’ll be working with Innovate UK and other organisations to try and connect those of The government is looking for businesses who can support in the supply of ventilators and ventilator components across the UKyou able to respond or adapt to the UK’s new challenges. From rapid scaling up of the manufacture of ventilators (if you can help, click here for details of how to apply) and other medical supplies, to supporting the wider population and economy to adapt to face challenging new situations.

    The linked government web page states:

    The government is looking for businesses who can support in the supply of ventilators and ventilator components across the UK...

    but there's no information to indicate what constitutes "ventilator components". I can see two problems with this: 1/ companies won't know if they have something useful, 2/ it will lead to unsuitable companies offering help, thus wasting time triaging applications.

    The Manufacturer also has a blog page claiming to have "all the information you need", but it merely restates what's on the government's page.

    The IET, other professional institutions and their respective publication channels could play an important role via our expert panels and wider networks collating and reviewing information to make sure it is useful from a technical perspective and keeping it up to date.


    UK ‘very close to breakthrough coronavirus immunity test’

    The UK is “very close” to developing an antibodies test that will determine whether someone has had coronavirus and is now immune, according to a former government adviser.

    Professor Sir Mark Walport said that the test, that would show whether someone has already had the virus and is able to safely interact with those who are infected, “has been validated’.

    Speaking on ITV’s Peston show on Wednesday, Prof Walport said: “This may seem slow now but compared to the rate at which you have been able to develop a test like this for a few years, this is going at the speed at light.

  • Manufacturing companies with rapid prototyping and 3D printing capabilities will be able to make parts for ventilators. All they will need is a compatible 3D cad file of the components needed. The key to releasing the manufacturing potential to to release the design data electronically.

    The next step is to coordinate suppliers and the supply chain to assembly facilities. As I am also a member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, I know they are directly coordinating help for critical supply chains by way of volunteers, including retired members, so they could be enlisted to do that part.

    The final step is to identify the assembly facilities, these will be companies making low to medium volume small products (similar size, with agile production facilities - so not the likes of JCB
  • In the short term, focusing on the Ventilators challenge, the common thread among most of the responses so far is about making the right information available to the widest range of relevant, supply-chain audiences in an intelligent way, in order to promote valuable action rather than sustain uncertainty.  This feels right, and something which intelligent digitalisation might accelerate.  For example:
    • A managed, open-source styled, design authority.

    • Coordinated information on manufacture, logistics, assembly, testing, shipping, support, recycling?

    • Is blockchain technology too challenging in the required timeframes, or can it build confidence rapidly (for this and future manufacturing effort)?

    In other words, make it smarter?


    Longer term, it is presumably too early to predict what the impact of COVID-19 will be, which will only become clearer once we can gauge steady state responses across the population as we strive to return to 'normal' economic activity.  In this context, engineering seems well placed to contribute to mapping out how the systems and enterprise architecture of modern life can or will need to adjust if responding to infections needs to be sustained far into the future, with containment permanently in mind.  Relevant topics might include:

    • Transportation

    • Testing

    • Localised community response equipment and procedures

    • Social distancing 'monitoring' - at a simple level perhaps around occupancy density in buildings.

    And maybe COVID-19 is the required nudge for transformation of our built environment / urban areas / high streets in the 21st Century:

    • A proportion of office and retail space migrating to environmentally-aware 'living' space.

    • Cleaner, lower-cost transportation solutions that capitalise on the reduced demand for commute journeys that the current encouraged / enforced remote working might signpost.

    • The often touted, widespread, data connectivity.

  • Ian MacGillivray:

    ... focusing on the Ventilators challenge...

    • A managed, open-source styled, design authority.

    There are a number of open source initiatives, all with worthy aims, but I'm not sure how you would recognise one or the other as a design authority?

    Ian MacGillivray:


    • Coordinated information on manufacture, logistics, assembly, testing, shipping, support, recycling

    I think this is what's missing, certainly I can't find it easily using Google searches.
    Even a simple list of components required mapped to the skills/facilities required and the companies authorised to assemble them would be a good start.
  • I am interested in the measurement / sensing/ testing challenges in this area. It is important that we ensure that the data produced by new measurement systems of all kinds can be used with confidence in decision making and will be reliably available. This is not easy, especially when working under pressure.  I chair the UK Sensing Innovation Leadership Council which is championing collaboration between five UK Centres with specialist expertise in sensing to facilitate the sensing innovation lifecycle to deliver just this confidence and security of supply.  We were discussing this week how best to gather the requirements and engage positively without getting in the way of the teams working hard on this issue.  If you could facilitate that Jeremy, it would be much appreciated.

    ps. We also have the IET hosted International Measurement Community to provide a greater reach in the search for solutions if needed.

    i wonder if the front line biomedical engineering and clinical engineering could use non*-registered help in preparing or  simply returning equipment through  standard existing system of work back to clinical itu ? 

    maybe hospital physics and engineering could help? If not urgently needed in their registered disciplines. 

  • How can we harness the power of mobile phone technology. One suggestion is placing a mobile phone on the lower chest/stomach to measure breathing rate. I know that mobile phones can be used as a spirit level so they should be able to detect the rise and fall. This might be useful for when doctors are doing remote appointments with patients. If anyone has the skill set to build such an application I would be interested to see it. Also collectively I would ask if anyone has seen anything online where mobile phones have been used for medical diagnostic.