The Northern Ireland Engineering sector has always had a great reputation for building world class companies. Queens University has an international reputation for producing world class graduate talent. Imagine what happens when through chance and a global pandemic these two worlds collided.
On Thursday 26th March, just days after the UK went into lockdown, McLaren put out a call for engineering companies to help them with the ‘Ventilator Challenge’ to make 15,000 ventilators urgently to assist the NHS and the fight against coronavirus.
Hutchinson Engineering were one of the first to respond, and as luck would have it, there was already a connection. Two of the McLaren project leads were Queens Graduates and one had spent his placement year at Hutchinson Engineering, the connection was made.
Four days later Hutchinson’s passed the supplier approval process and 7 days later they shipped their first components to help manufacture ventilator trolleys.
Mark Hutchinson, MD commented, “We brought a small team back from furlough to help make this happen, it was an easy decision as we knew we had to help if we could. The team response was incredible, they took the McLaren design, and manufactured samples within hours, moving to full production within days. We work hard to create a dynamic and empowered workforce and this project shows how all the hard work has paid off. We are proud to play a small part in the fight against this awful disease”.
Andrew Hawthorne, Technical Buyer at McLaren Racing added, “The team at Hutchinson Engineering had the facility and capabilities to challenge the biggest UK manufactures in terms of lead time, price and quality with the added bonus of great communication throughout and completing all orders in lightening time”.
By the end of April, the team had completed the project successfully, ahead of time. The completion of this project gave the team confidence that they could operate under new social distancing guidelines. Since then there has been a phased return for the workforce to help support key customers in their return to manufacturing. Hutchinson Engineering currently have over 50% of the workforce back and orders are starting to increase.
The UK manufacturing industry has been the backbone of the UK’s support system during this crisis. The team at Hutchinson’s believe that being involved in the Ventilator Challenge UK, with prestigious names such as McLaren, Ford, and Airbus shows a path to how the industry can grow. Collaboration and sharing of ideas and expertise was key to the success of the project, companies that may never have spoken before are now connected and supporting each other.
Does this bode well for the NI manufacturing industry? We think so. As the only Northern Irish company to become involved in the UK Ventilator Challenge, Hutchinson Engineering have reaffirmed that the Northern Ireland manufacturing sector can hold it’s own alongside some of the world’s best-known brands.