Futuristic headsets programmed to enable skilled aerospace and automotive production line operatives to rapidly switch to the manufacture of 10,000 life-saving medical ventilators were rushed from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), part of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, to sites across the UK last week. At the same time, AMRC Cymru was turned into a production facility for the devices.

The augmented reality equipment is critical to the success of a powerful industrial consortium which has come together to accelerate the production of thousands of ventilators before the Covid-19 pandemic reaches its peak and risks overwhelming the ability of NHS doctors and nurses to treat a sudden surge in patients suffering from the virus.

Under the leadership of the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, the AMRC and the Nuclear AMRC, are at the heart of a multi-faceted campaign to deliver the additional ventilators, the first of which will be coming off production lines around the UK as early as next week.

Manufacture of the ventilators will be scaled up at AMRC Cymru in Broughton in North Wales in collaboration with automotive giant Ford. To enable rapid acceleration of production HoloLens headsets will be used to fast track the training of operatives, while allowing them to keep a safe distance from one another in line with Covid-19 guidance. Microsoft tasked Professor Scott of AMRC with coordinating their deployment across the country in the response to the government’s Ventilator Challenge. The high-tech equipment – initially designed for use in gaming –- will be delivered with additional software provided by an AMRC partner, the US-based global augmented reality specialist PTC.

“HoloLens and mobile devices will run PTC’s Vuforia Expert Capture app to create and share training content, giving workers guided instructions in how to set up the new production processes needed to make the ventilators. In addition, Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Remote Assist will offer hands-free video calling on the HoloLens to let operators collaborate with experts on a PC or mobile device, harnessing immersive digital tech to tackle a real-world pandemic,” said Professor Scott.

Rather than putting wearers of the headset in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them; users can walk around the objects they create and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice.

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said:

“The AMRC and the Nuclear AMRC have always been at the forefront of using innovation to respond to the most pressing challenges. We are incredibly proud of how our staff have risen to this challenge by supporting the design and manufacture of new ventilators and other vital medical equipment at this time of national emergency.

“The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium is a prime example of what can be achieved when industry, academia and the government work together. This approach will remain a critical element in the UK’s crisis response and recovery.”


About the AMRC

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is a world-class centre for research into advanced manufacturing technologies used in the aerospace, automotive, medical and other high-value manufacturing sectors.

The AMRC has a global reputation for helping companies overcome manufacturing problems and is a model for collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry worldwide.  It is also one of the founder partners of Immerse UK.

Combining state of the art technologies with the AMRC’s expertise in design and prototyping, machining, casting, welding, additive manufacturing, composites, robotics and automation, digital manufacturing and structural testing, has created a manufacturing resource far beyond anything previously available in the UK.

The AMRC is a member of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a consortium of leading manufacturing and process research centres, backed by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.