I had the privilege of leading a team from our Submarines business made up of half a dozen specialist engineers to design and develop the Morecambe Bay Hood - a Powered Air Purifying Respirator for use by NHS staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We'd all witnessed the NHS's incredible response to the coronavirus pandemic, so when the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust came to us for assistance we jumped at the chance to help.
My team and I had already been involved in previous Covid-19 response activities for the NHS; this started with 3D printing hundreds of curtain hooks for isolation cubicles, followed by thousands of face shields for healthcare workers. It was a real success and led to us being asked to design and build two Covid recovery centres in Barrow and Kendal. They were needed urgently and through a team effort with our contractors, I’m proud to say we delivered an additional 196 beds in just nine days.
Our small team of specialist engineers began 20 weeks of intense product development, drawing on techniques normally used to develop new generations of nuclear submarines. The weeks flew by with the teams working on dozens of ideas and multiple component prototypes, with entire system prototypes frequently being brought together for trials to test concepts, designs, manufacturing technologies and material selection to ensure optimum performance.
Innovative ideas flowed; the team listened carefully to one another and our external stakeholders and tabled their ideas without fear. We objectively disqualified anything that didn't move the product towards the central outcomes we'd identified. Across our business there’s a wide pool of people with diverse skills and we drew on this to form a broader multi-disciplined team of more than 30 colleagues.
What I love most about working in the Submarines business is our people. They are genuine and good; phenomenal engineers and competent innovators. I was privileged to lead them and witness what can happen when some of our best are let loose on a critical issue, even one that falls so far outside their normal scope.
The experience has been exciting and rewarding, especially when, after 20 weeks of rapid development and several days of human factors trials at Royal Lancaster Infirmary to test the hood in situ with clinicians, we were in a position to apply for certification.
When the hood system passed the necessary tests on first attempt, demonstrating its compliance with a range of requirements such as functionality, endurance and airflow, the team was ecstatic.
Michael Fraser, Head of Engineering, Specialist Engineering and Technology Group, BAE Systems Submarines.
When the hood system passed the necessary tests on first attempt, demonstrating its compliance with a range of requirements such as functionality, endurance and airflow, the team was ecstatic. I will always remember their reactions when I called them one by one to personally deliver the good news; that is definitely a career highlight for me and made the team's contribution of more than 2000 hours of development time totally worthwhile.
The final step was an assessment of the system by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which involved the HSE's PPE team undertaking a review with the finest of toothcombs. After a period of several weeks we got the final green light and confirmation that the system could now be deployed onto the front line to protect health workers during the pandemic - the hard work had paid off!
Not only has our team played a significant role in helping to keep our local health workers safer but the work we did could help protect frontline staff right across the country.
Everyone hopes to work for a company that will step up to help when a crisis hits, but you don't actually know if that's the case until a crisis occurs. I'm so pleased I chose to work for BAE Systems as we’ve shown that its values are very much real and alive; that we will step forward to help our community and country when it really matters.