From military tech to a medical device
Raytheon UK to build ventilators for Coronavirus pandemic
The employees working at Raytheon UK’s manufacturing facility in Glenrothes, Scotland, are no strangers when it comes to assembling vital components that help protect the men and women of the UK armed forces and allies.
Soon their efforts will shift to a project that hits even closer to home – building ventilators for severely ill patients suffering from COVID-19, among them family, friends and neighbours.
“Our team already has a no-fail mentality,” said Paul Johnston, Raytheon UK manufacturing director. “We have a history of building safety-critical, life-critical components and parts, so our people already have that mindset and culture going into what we’re doing with the ventilators.”
Raytheon UK, a Raytheon Technologies company, has teamed with Babcock International Group to manufacture a new ventilator called the Zephyr Plus, specifically designed for treating COVID-19 patients.
“We’ll start building a few units in Glenrothes in the next week and then begin volume production in Livingston … later,” Johnston said.
Livingston is a new Raytheon UK manufacturing facility about 15 miles west of Edinburgh. It just opened its doors in the third week of March 2020. The plant wasn’t supposed to become operational until next year, but COVID-19 sped up those plans.
“It was fortuitous that we had just signed the agreement for Livingston facility, but it was also a challenge,” said Paul Jarvie, Raytheon UK operations manager. “We had planned about six to eight months to bring Livingston online. We did it in six weeks.”
“More importantly, we’re making employee safety a top priority, following social distancing practices, so we’ll have to make some adjustments to the lines,” said Donald Gunn, who is leading the project for Raytheon UK. “What I’m proud of is the first product to come out of this new factory will be a ventilator, which are desperately needed…it will be very exciting to see the first one come out of the new building.”
Jarvie said ventilator production will not impact or interrupt their normal manufacturing operations, crediting the standup of the Livingston factory and the hiring of short-term employees. And he said that there’s been no shortage of volunteers among Raytheon UK employees who have asked him how they can help.
“It’s a privilege, but it’s a heavy responsibility because of what we’re going to build.” Jarvie said. “We’re looking to build ventilators that will save people’s lives. That’s ultimately what we’re doing, and every member of the team that’s supporting us is absolutely focused on that end goal. There’s absolutely no debate.”
For a factory that manufactures technology and components for space and the battlefield, fabricating ventilators composed of only 60 components should be straightforward.
“What we’re finding is that our standards and our processes are very, very complementary to what our NHS customer wants,” Jarvie said. “We’re applying what’s already in our ‘DNA’ to a new area but using the same methodology, using the same rigor, the same thought processes that we do with all programs that we bring on stream.”
As the media has widely reported, when a COVID-19 patient needs a ventilator, their condition is critical. They can’t breathe on their own, and they need a machine, a ventilator, to pump oxygen into their lungs.
“If it stays in the box and gathers dust, fantastic,” Jarvie said, “but having that capability and knowing that you’ve got a quality product that could save somebody’s life, that's what it’s there for, you know, that's the key thing.”