Cover (Image: Christophe Archambault/AFP)

The billionaire inventor came up with CoVent after receiving a request from the UK government for a ventilator that was safe and effective

When British billionaire James Dyson relocated his global headquarters to Singapore last year, he made headlines for buying the most expensive penthouse in the country for $73.8 million. Now, the inventor, who is best known for creating the Dyson brand’s cordless vacuum cleaners and heat-controlled hair dryers, has thrust Singapore back in the international spotlight—this time for making a much-needed contribution to humanity’s fight against the global coronavirus pandemic.

It began when British prime minister Boris Johnson phoned Dyson in March just as the Covid-19 crisis was unfolding in the UK. Dyson immediately sprang into action to build a new model of ventilator. As the coronavirus attacks the patient’s respiratory system, large numbers of this life-saving equipment are urgently needed around the world to assist patients who encounter complications that result in breathing difficulties.

“The UK government requested a design for a ventilator that was safe, effective, efficient in conserving oxygen, easy to use, bed-mounted, portable and not needing a fixed air supply,” said Dyson in a memo to staff that was shared with the media. “The core challenge was how to design and deliver a new, sophisticated medical product in volume and in an extremely short space of time.”

The idea was to use the company’s expertise in components such as digital motors, battery packs, airflow technology and Hepa filters, to build medical-grade ventilators.

Just 10 days after Johnson’s call, in collaboration with The Technology Partnership, a Cambridge-based group of science and innovation companies, Dyson unveiled the CoVent prototype. This device is engineered to deliver high-quality, filtered air by harnessing Dyson’s air-purifying technology.

One key feature is that it has been designed to be portable so that it can be used in different settings, such as in field hospitals or during the transportation of patients. Most importantly, CoVent “can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume”, Dyson said.

The British government has placed an order for 10,000 units. In addition, Dyson has also pledged to make another 5,000 machines for the international effort to treat coronavirus patients.

However, Dyson will not be supplying the British government with medical ventilators anymore. A Bloomberg report stated that the order had been cancelled, although the company did not explain why.

In Singapore, Dyson’s local operations, which include its global research and development hub and a manufacturing plant, are playing a key role in the construction of these new ventilators. The motors for the CoVent machines are being produced by 300 robots that are running round the clock in Dyson’s Singapore Advanced Manufacturing facility in the Tuas industrial district. 

“Hospitals are the front line in the war against Covid-19,” Dyson said, emphasising the importance of this production line. “As with any battle, there are many challenges to overcome, not least the availability of essential equipment which, in this case, means ventilators.”

A Special Tatler Asia Report—We salute those in Asia who are leading the fight against the Covid-19 crisis: Tan Min-Liang | Anthony Tan | Capitaland | Martin Tan | Tom Kong | The Full List

The May 2020 issue is now available with our compliments on Magzter.