12TH MAY, 2020

Innovation And The Race To Build Ventilators

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes - and the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak has certainly shown this to be true. Although the NHS has weathered the storm well, back at the start of the lockdown we had no idea what the demand on ventilators specifically would be. This has since resulted in many innovative companies offering their services. Production lines usually reserved for car parts or vacuum cleaners suddenly rolled out breathing tubes, respirator machines, visors and more, giving rise to a wave of innovation to be proud of.

Functionally, ventilators are not particularly complex. They’re essentially sophisticated pumps, designed to push oxygen round the patient’s body and control air flow. However, substantially boosting production - and fast - is a challenge in itself, especially as ventilators are rather heavy and bulky. Plus of course, they also need to be certified as safe for medical use, and there’s the logistics involved in getting them to where they’re needed most too.

In this article we look at how the focus on ventilator production during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has boosted innovation across manufacturers.

Tesla designs ventilators from re-purposed car parts

Back in March, Elon Musk announced on Twitter that Tesla will put forward its plans to develop medical grade ventilators if demand outstrips supply. As Tesla cars are constructed with sophisticated heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, the company offered to innovate new ventilators based on this technology. Re-purposed car parts that have been included in these Tesla-designed ventilators include those from the Model S's suspension system as well as from the Model 3's infotainment screen. As these parts are already produced in large volumes, the issue of scalability was much less of a problem. Two different versions of the ventilators were created: one was a prototype model and the other was a packaged model to show how the ventilators would look in a hospital.

Dyson’s “CoVent” ventilators

The world-renowned vacuum cleaning producer Dyson stepped up the plate in March, putting forward its plans for its CoVent ventilator design to help in the COVID-19 fight. Fortunately in the latter part of April it was decided that existing ventilator capacity in the NHS is sufficient, so the Dyson ventilators wouldn’t be required after all. However, the plans Dyson had already drawn up were exciting; they showed a highly innovative ventilator design that would be easy to use, portable or bed mountable, and that requires no fixed air supply.

Formula 1’s “BlueSky” ventilators

When the pandemic was at its peak in the UK, F1 teams Renault and Red Bull partnered with Alastair Darwood, a junior doctor and NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme member to manufacture an innovative portable, low-cost and easily scalable ventilator.

Each of the seven UK-based F1 teams also had input into the project, with senior designers putting in extremely long days to bring the ventilator from the ideas stage to prototype manufacture in under one month.

Again, fortunately the demand for ventilators has not been as high as feared so the purchase of BlueSky ventilators by the NHS has been shelved for now. But the strides forward which the teams made in understanding how to make lighter, more adaptable machines that are easy to scale up has offered valuable insights for the future. The low-cost factor has also been important, as money saving particularly for the NHS is also of course a high priority.

Virgin Orbit and the scaling up of ventilators

Virgin Orbit is another enterprise that has been very keen to use their knowledge to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually they’d be manufacturing space rockets and other equipment for space launch, so there’s no shortage of incredibly innovative designers, programmers and testers ready to tackle any ventilator shortages.

Virgin Orbit engineers have looked particularly at how existing ventilators can be mass produced more quickly, and in much higher volumes. They also put together their own ventilator design, which would be high quality but economical to build. It would also be very light and - essentially - easily reproducible. Work continues to be ongoing.

How R&D Tax Credits can mean a substantial cash injection for your innovative company

Whatever industry your business is in, whether it’s in ventilator manufacture, wider healthcare or something completely different, R&D Tax Credits are not be missed.

The scheme works by offering Corporation Tax relief to innovative companies of any size that have made an advancement in science or technology. Loss-making companies can claim a cash lump sum instead. Typically, the reward is offered in respect of a new product, process or service a company has developed. Alternatively, it can also be awarded to cover costs involved in appreciably updating a product, service of process that already exists.

We can’t stress this enough though - R&D Tax Credits are open to any business in any sector! It’s not just about scientists in labs or large technology companies; if any scientific or technological steps forward have been made that benefits the industry as a whole then a claim is likely.

The good news too is when it comes to R&D Tax Credits, the scope of projects and range of eligible expenditure is extremely broad. Staff wages, employers NIC and pension contributions, certain types of software and consumables used up in the R&D process for example will all qualify. Plus, with up to 33 pence for every £1 of R&D expenditure claimable, it’s a fantastically generous scheme too.

Why not take the opportunity to find out more on our R&D Tax Credits page.

How the Tax Cloud portal makes claiming easy

Offering a straight-forward, low fee solution to claiming R&D Tax Credits, our Tax Cloud portal for businesses is ideal. It’s a totally online service with no minimum contract period and no upfront fees. Claims will also be reviewed by the dedicated team of R&D specialists and accountants at Myriad Associates, and it fully integrates with Xero too.

Ready to find out how much you could claim? Try the Tax Cloud portal for businesses today or call us on 0207 360 4437. During these difficult times, we recommend reading our recent blog too: What Are The New Support Packages Available For UK Businesses During The Coronavirus COVID-19 Crisis?

Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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Barrie Dowsett Barrie Dowsett ACMA CGMA Chief Executive Officer
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