An interview with the technicians meeting the Ventilator Challenge - part 2

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 needed for much needed ventilators and ventilator parts. Smiths, , a large engineering and design company were asked to join to produce more of its life saving paraPAC™Plus ventilators. Two technicians from Smiths who are part of the consortium, shared with us what it was like to be a part of such an extraordinary challenge.   


Steven Bird, 48, works as an Inspection Technician.

Hi Steven! Are technicians important to manufacturing? 

'Technicians are extremely important. We check and investigate components as they come in from the supplier. We make sure that the intricate machined parts are exact and precise to the technical drawing. This is to make sure that once the device is assembled and tested it’s reliable and there are no component failures – which in the case of the device I am responsible for, the paraPAC plus ventilator, is extremely critical.'

What lead you to choose your normal job role? 

I started at Smiths Medical originally as a Stock Controller, then transitioned to a Materials Engineer. I achieved my engineering qualification while training as an Aircraft Engineer early on in my career and wanted to apply my experience and qualifications to an appropriate role within Smiths Medical. 

What’s the best bit about your day to day job?  

The best thing about my job is definitely seeing the ventilator on the rack ready to be collected and shipped off to ambulances and hospitals across the UK and overseas. I know these ventilators will help to save people’s lives. Another rewarding aspect of the job is when I investigate an issue and discover the problem and come up with a solution – I’m very results focused!    

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

'It’s become very apparent during this time how important technical skills are when faced with a global pandemic. Technicians are good critical thinkers able to react quickly when an issue may arise and can adapt to changing needs. These skills have enabled us to ramp up production at the Smiths Medical site 10 fold in comparison to the previous rate.'

What is your daily routine currently like?   

'Now there are lot more safety protocols at the site - we must wear masks, stay 2 metres apart and have our temperature taken as we enter in the morning. The working hours have also increased by double so we can increase production for the UK need.'

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

'I’ve discovered decorating during lockdown! I’m really enjoying exploring my more creative side.'

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

'An engineering qualification is useful but being able to work under pressure, having an inquisitive mind, good problem-solving skills and a positive attitude will get you far!'        

Personally, how have you found everything? 

'It’s been challenging but also very rewarding to know that my role has been key to quality control  in the manufacturing of the ventilators. When the finished ventilator devices leave the factory and head to ambulances and hospitals across the country to help people it makes me feel very proud.'

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

'When I was a young, I was always fascinated by how things worked, whether it was a car or a washing machine. This led to me fixing anything I could get my hands on, and training to be an aircraft Engineer and my career took off from there so to speak! I would say if you have a passion for science, a thirst for knowledge and a drive to help make things better in the world then you should pursue a career in engineering because you will achieve some fantastic results that you’ll be proud of.'    

To learn more about working for Smiths Medical, click here

Chris Percival, Head of Global Operations, Smiths Group, said: 

The extraordinary engineering and technical talent at Smiths is what drives innovation and enables us to provide world class products and services to our customers. The importance of technicians and engineers has rarely been more visible than during the global pandemic; they have played an instrumental role in helping Smiths increase production of our paraPAC plus ventilator to support the UK Government’s effort to combat COVID-19. Their creativity and ability to solve complex challenges have literally helped save lives and we couldn’t be more proud or supportive of our technical communities.   

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