An interview with the technicians meeting the Ventilator Challenge - Part 1

When COVID-19 hit, world leading organisations from aerospace, engineering, manufacturing, and health came together and formed the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, to design and create the apparatus for much needed ventilators and ventilator parts. Two technicians from Smiths, a large engineering and design company who are part of the consortium, shared with us what it was like to be a part of such an extraordinary challenge.  


Jamie Perkins, 29, is a technical specialist at Smiths, working on ‘lean continuous improvement’.

Hi Jamie! Before taking part in the challenge, what was your day-to-day job?

'Normally, my job involves looking at the production processes and finding ways to improve our ability to make more products at a faster pace. I also think of ways we can improve the quality of our work, such as using new tools and machinery. This helps us to cut the cost of our manufacturing by reducing time spent on building the product and the amount of scrap products thrown in the bin.'

Why are technicians important to manufacturing?

Technicians are at the heart of the manufacturing lines; they are the ones who really get involved in the day-to-day operations. Technicians are highly capable individuals who can provide invaluable feedback to the manufacturing engineering and research and development departments to help drive business improvement and operational excellence.

What lead you to choose your normal job role?

I really enjoy taking on new challenges and rolling up my sleeves. As a Technical Specialist I work on projects of various complexities, such as; changing the materials used to build a product, making dimensional adjustments, installing new manufacture and test equipment, and undertaking production line optimisation to increase quality and efficiency. This is all really interesting to me.

What’s the best bit about your job on a day-to-day basis?

Solving a problem and being successful! I really enjoy completing a task and seeing the direct impact it has on performance.

What are you and your team doing as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The team I work in is playing a vital role in optimising our production lines and changing the way we work so that we become more efficient, enabling the business to increase ventilator output, from 20-30 a week to hundreds a week. This all helps in the global fight against COVID-19 and meeting customer demand for our lifesaving products.

How did you and your team get involved?

Smiths were asked by the UK Government to produce more of our life saving paraPAC tm plus ventilators for the NHS to help combat COVID-19. We joined the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium and worked with GKN Aerospace and Rolls Royce to install new production lines at their facilities in Luton, Cowes, and Bristol to ramp up production of the ventilator. 

What is your current daily routine like?

I am currently heavily focused on helping the business to continue to meet its ventilator build plan. A lot of my other projects have been put on hold so that I can focus on this project. There has been a lot of travelling to our manufacturing site in Luton and mapping out new production processes to see how we can improve things. We each have a continuous improvement culture in Smiths.

When you’re not working, are you doing anything that you didn’t do before lockdown?

I haven’t really had the time to take on any new activities as I’ve been so busy helping the team to produce ventilators. However, I have spent more time reflecting on what really matters in life and plan on spending more time with friends and family after the lockdown measures have been fully lifted.

What skills and attributes do you need to do your job?

I use mathematics, science and English, but there are other soft skills which are just as important such as the ability to work well with others and believe that things can always be improved. As an engineer our job is never done – something can always be improved!

Personally, how have you found everything?

I have been absolutely amazed by my colleagues in Luton who have been so dedicated to the ventilator project and have sacrificed seeing their families in order to commit their time to helping the national need – and by doing so helping to save lives.

What would you say to a young person thinking about a technical career?

Definitely take the plunge! There is so much to learn and so many opportunities and pathways you can take in the industry. You will still be enjoying yourself and learning new things even at the end of your career. You will meet a lot of smart, interesting and like-minded people who want to use their skills to better the world. There is also the possibility of being able to travel and work in countries all over the world. A career in engineering is certainly one you won’t regret!

To read more about Jamie and learn how more about working for Smiths, click here

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