This blog is guest authored by Geoffrey Fowler, Principal of the Royal Docks based London Design and Engineering University Technical College.
The UK’s response to the pandemic has had to be a two-pronged approach. Vaccination is now being rolled-out. But rapid testing is still playing a central role in slowing the spread of the infection, so more COVID-free people can get vaccinated.
It’s all been a race against time. And nothing must hinder how quickly we’re able to identify those infected with COVID-19, so they can self-isolate and prevent further infection as soon as possible.
However, there are issues threatening to have a great impact on this roll-out. And this is exactly what the London borough of Newham found when setting up rapid-testing centres in the local area. The area was experiencing a shortage of test tube racks, which were causing health workers to use upturned DUPLO Lego bricks as a replacement so they could continue – but at a reduced speed.
This needed to be solved, especially as the rates of the new COVID-19 strain had risen so much that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had declared a major incident.
The solution came from some of our staff at the London Design and Engineering University Technical College (LDE UTC) in Newham.
When we received the plea for help from our local authority, we thought this was our chance to step up, to do our bit and support the local community in the fight against the pandemic. When we realised there was a shortage of test tube racks, we contacted the local council who revealed that there were none available from manufacturers. They were having to make do without.
So, we looked for a solution internally or more precisely to James Wayland, lead technician at the UTC. He was joined by his team Jonathan Allard, workshop technician and Joshua Button, digital technician. Their aim was to research, design, test, and produce test tube racks to rectify the shortage in Newham – a mammoth task to be completed in a matter of days.
But although we faced many of the strains other schools are currently facing due to COVID-19 and remote learning, the UTC was in a good position.
In many ways the UTC is a vision of the future when it comes to technology. When the UTC was opened in 2016, it had cloud technology which enables staff and students to access learning resources from any location.
What it meant was that James could start researching and designing rapid prototypes from home by using Fusion 360 on his Fujitsu laptop. By the time James and the team entered the lab they were prepared to get down to building prototypes using the laser cutter and their workstations.
Prior to the pandemic, Fujitsu had also invested in the UTC’s design and manufacturing equipment to encourage students to take up innovation skills. The technology for this immediately leant itself to the task at hand.
The team produced a number of prototypes, which were quickly assessed and approved by the public health team who were on-site. Next, they rapidly went into production. On the first day, they produced around 150 test tube racks, with a couple of iterations along the way. On the second and last day they’d produced around 372 test tube racks in total.
Against the odds, Newham was able to supply all the equipment necessary to their rapid-test sites, which ensured health staff were able to operate at optimum speed.
The hidden key to success
There were a number of keys to success in this rapid design and manufacturing process. Most obviously are James and his team, who applied their expertise to the problem at lightning speed. But Fujitsu technologies’ role is less noticeable – and this is a good thing.
When the team are relying so heavily on technology to achieve their goal, the technology needs to be easy, fast, and reliable. It needs to be so seamless that it becomes unnoticeable.
This was only possible because we’d invested time in working with Fujitsu to implement Core, Edge, and Cloud technology solutions within the UTC, which shows why digital transformation must be on the agenda of education.
It has always been the UTC’ mission to inspire future generations. I can only hope that how James and the team have contributed to the community has opened up the imagination of what can be possible when education is given the agility and resources to innovate and inspire.
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