16 June 2020

4 days, 13 apprentice’s/graduate’s, 1 big problem – Ventilator hackathon

4 days, 13 apprentice’s/graduate’s, 1 big problem.

On Wednesday 13th of May, myself along with 12 apprentices and graduates (from Siemens Manchester & Congleton) made our way to airbus ARMC where we were brief on a challenge impacting the urgent production of ventilators; intended for the HNS to help the battle against COVID-19.

The problem was regarding the calibration of a needle valve assembly. The problem being that to reach a target of 3,000 ventilator units produced per week 6,000 needles are required to be produced, calibrated and verified. The process of calibration currently can take up to 45 minutes per set of needles which is causing a delay in production. The aim was to reduce that calibration time significantly by changing the calibration process. The objective was to produce a prototype for automated needle calibration in 96 hours.

A hackathon is an intensive working environment where the sole aim is to produce a working prototype by the end of the event. The team was comprised solely of early careers working at Siemens Manchester and Congleton.  Hackathons allow for rapid development as they lift corporate workflows to focus just on the problem and solution. By having a clear end goal with the only aim to achieve that end goal causes an intensive drive.

Throughout the event the team experienced countless mistakes and setbacks however every failure did not seem like a failure because the project was so interesting, and failure was embraced. Instead of failure having a negative connotation which can often happen in a more formal setting when missing a deadline or not achieving the desired result, the connotation was much more positive. Failure meant there was something learned, something that had been discovered and this was a critical part of the project.

Day 1 was about understanding the problem, then to design viable solutions. We wanted a system which could be adjusted with motors so that no human adjustment would be required after the needle is placed into the system. Due to time constraints, we decided to design a solution with the intention of full automation but with the option of manual adjustment to keep the initial design as simple as possible. To create a solution quickly we used Siemens digital software tools including NX so that we could design and simulate the parts meaning we could make improvements before waiting for parts to be made.

The concept which the team designed allows calibration in real time while the needle is under pressure. The design consists of different elements designed by different members of the team which each tackle a small problem.

After an intensive day of problem solving to create a concept, Day 2 involved getting physical parts to test and verify our design. Rapid prototyping was the next step which was made possible by using NX (a powerful siemens 3D design software package) and by 3D printing the parts internally. Before the end of day, after many design iterations the team were confident with the design and the parts were sent to be machined out of aluminum throughout the night. Using an Agile approach really help to focus our efforts by releasing design changes quickly and often.

Day 3 was the day to collect the parts which we designed, from precision engineering. To rectify some design issues which became apparent while at precision engineering, we used software such as NX, the team at airbus were able to relay the information to myself and precision engineering via video calling so that we could rectify some design issues. The remaining parts were then machined from aluminum and carefully hand delivered to the airbus site.


Day 4 was about constructing and getting the first working prototype running. This was challenging as the design had not been tested up until this point. Approximately 1 hour before presenting, the design was successfully tested and verified. The needle was able to be adjusted in real time which was a success for the team.

3D printer

Now the team had a successful prototype designed and with approval from the consortium management board to proceed, the next steps are refinement and full automation using the Siemens Portfolio of software and hardware including PLC’s, motor’s and HMI’s

There was not one member of the team who lost drive or interest throughout the entire hackathon. In fact, the closer we became to the end goal the harder the push to complete the project. I am truly proud to be a Siemens apprentice, and I am amazed at the determination, innovation and skills of the members involved in the hackathon who are all part of the early career’s programmes. It truly speaks volumes for the quality of the early careers here at Siemens. It’s for experience and opportunities like this why I chose a degree apprenticeship at Siemens over studying solely at university.

Not only has the hackathon allowed the team to produce a proof of design functioning prototype which will reduce the calibration process from around 45 minutes to within the single digits, but it has also made a big impact to the entire team including myself. Graduates and apprentices from different parts of the business were brought together to work on something so important and challenging. This caused working relationships to form very fast and widened the understanding of how the business functions.

I think that having a team with members so early on in their career allowed for fresh thinking and out of the box ideas to be explored without being disregarded and influenced heavily by previous experience. A special thanks should also go to the Agile coaches and leadership within the team, they created an inclusive open environment where everyone could contribute and speak freely which was important to allow creative ideas to be voiced. Should this task have been assigned before the time of 3D design, the ability to rapid prototype and video communication then I feel that the project would have taken significant longer to get to this point.

There are 3 words I would like to end with which I believe sum the whole experience up: Agile, Technology and Innovation.

Thanks to all the people involved:

  • Anubhi Khandelwal – Coach and Mentor
  • Michal Zlotek –  Coach and Mentor
  • Jess Reading
  • Gabriel Vijent
  • Ben Parry
  • Elliott Baskerville
  • Joe Tasker
  • John Mackey
  • Matt Clarkson
  • Connor Hendry
  • Ryan Durbridge
  • Liv Kelly                                                                      


  • Damian Paton – Team leader
  • Dave Thomas
  • Matt Byrom

You can find out more information on the Ventilator Challenge on: https://www.ventilatorchallengeuk.com/

Additional information on Siemens involvement: https://news.siemens.co.uk/news/siemens-joins-national-business-group-to-increase-uk-ventilator-production

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