Business management

Face shields for the frontline

With the pandemic affecting vital supplies of PPE, global engineering and consultancy business Ricardo mobilised its resources to produce face shields for healthcare staff and care home workers.

“Many of us at Ricardo have family and friends working in the NHS or in care homes, making personal sacrifices to care for people in their communities,” says Phil Mortimer, technical business manager at Ricardo. “My own sister is working on the frontline in an NHS hospital. A lot of us have very personal reasons for wanting to use our engineering-design experience to make a difference.”

Back in 1903, the boys’ two-litre single-cylinder engine was used to pump water from a 100ft well at Sir Harry’s family home in rural West Sussex. These days, Ricardo, the company later founded by Sir Harry, who was knighted in 1948 for services to engineering, works with the likes of Bugatti, JCB and McLaren on engine designs and components for high-performance vehicles. Revenue for the last financial year was £384.4m.

As well as transport, the global engineering, environmental and strategic consultancy, still headquartered in West Sussex, specialises in the energy and scarce-resources sectors, with manufacturers, energy companies and government agencies on its books.

Responding to the PPE challenge

‘Scarce resources’ is usually a term heard in environmental contexts, but Ricardo recently turned its design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities to scarce resources of another kind – PPE, or personal protective equipment – by creating face shields, which the company is donating free of charge to care home workers and frontline NHS staff.

Like many manufacturing businesses around the UK, back in March Ricardo began to consider how it could apply its capabilities in response to the growing coronavirus crisis. As well as low-volume, high-quality manufacturing facilities, the company has an in-house rapid prototyping team, which quickly produced a face shield prototype using 3D printing. But 3D printing is a lengthy process, and it soon became clear to Ricardo that it would not be able to produce the volumes that were needed fast enough. The solution was found – as has often been the case in the current crisis – through a process of collaboration.

“We quickly took the decision to work with an injection moulding partner who could turn around tooling in a very short time and also secure a large supply of the clear visor material we needed,” says Mortimer.

Early on in the crisis, Ricardo had been approached by local healthcare workers trying to source eye protection, which was already in short supply, and had made connections with hospital doctors who were familiar with using face shields for infection control.

Everybody involved in the project had volunteered to be a part of it and there was universal enthusiasm to make it a success

Phil Mortimer
Technical business manager, Ricardo

“They were able to test and feed back on a number of prototype designs for fit and function in a controlled environment,” says Mortimer. “We knew that confidence in the equipment was key to morale among healthcare workers, so using their feedback we made comfort and compliance our priorities. Their insight enabled us to refine the prototype for enhanced comfort over periods of extended wear. The design selected as the most comfortable and secure was taken forward to the tooling stage.”

The company had to get up to speed quickly with the standards and government guidelines related to coronavirus PPE and then find a test house to ensure its designs were compliant. Design activities and tooling procurement continued alongside this process, while attention was turned to adapting Ricardo’s available space so production could begin.

Manufacturing under social distancing guidelines

Space for the production facilities was identified in the company’s technical centres in Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex and Leamington Spa in Warwickshire. “We not only had to consider the usual elements involved in manufacturing facility layout, such as movement of materials and finished parts,” says Mortimer, “but also had to ensure that the layout of the workspace and procedures we put in place allowed us to maintain safe social distancing to eliminate any possibility of coronavirus transmission between team members.”

Ricardo’s manufacturing engineers collaborated with its QHSE (quality, health, safety and environmental) management team to draw up the procedures and logistics. In barely a week they had defined the layout, written and reviewed safe systems of work and laid out a new production line.

Inevitably, the project was not without its challenges, particularly how to collaborate effectively through virtual means. “One of the key challenges was completing design reviews, supplier discussions, setting up a new manufacturing line and conducting testing with a team of people working remotely,” Mortimer recalls. “But our IT team had systems in place well ahead of lockdown to ensure we had the capability for the majority of our engineering teams to work remotely, and these systems worked seamlessly. They allowed the team to quickly bond and settle into this way of working, using file sharing and videoconferencing.”

Team effort

The Ricardo face shield went from design concept to dispatch and delivery to frontline healthcare workers in just three weeks.

“Everybody involved in the project had volunteered to be a part of it and there was universal enthusiasm to make it a success,” Mortimer says of his team’s efforts. “They all came together and took ownership of their individual areas of responsibility.”

When it comes to remote working, he admits to being pleasantly surprised: “I’m generally an advocate of getting teams together physically as the most efficient way of building business relationships and ensuring project teams work in harmony, but I was surprised how well videoconferencing worked. In future, I think we’ll be more confident to reduce what we previously regarded as essential business travel.”

Ricardo has just begun work on its third production run of face shields, with a view to extending this if there is continuing demand, and has produced a total of 10,000 masks to date.

As well as meeting an urgent need, the project has instilled an enormous sense of pride in all those involved. “We may have worked a few long days on this project, but there’s something humbling about going home at the end of the day and being able to share with family and friends that we’re making essential PPE to keep them safe, or seeing the pride our family feels when they say, ‘We saw you making PPE on the local news today.’”

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