March 2020 has been a month like no other for Geddington’s Ben Hodgkinson.
As head of mechanical engineering at Mercedes AMG HPP, he looked forward to the start of the Formula 1 season. Then Covid-19 hit – and he quickly had to hit top speed in something completely different when the racing season has been postponed.
With hospitals filling up quickly and fearing the NHS might run out of ventilators, he has worked day and night to create a new Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.
In just 10 days, the project was over and the device Ben and his team created would save thousands of lives around the world.
Ben has now been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for service to the NHS on the New Years Honors list – but the modest 46-year-old insists he was just ‘doing his duty “.
He told the Northants Telegraph: “I’m proud that I did it but I don’t feel as worthy as some. What I did was work incredibly hard for about three weeks.
âThere are doctors and nurses who have been working in these conditions, day and night, for months and months.
“I helped as much as I could and it was something I knew how to do. It was just my duty.”
Ben has a long-standing relationship with University College London (UCL), where he occasionally teaches engineering. At the start of the pandemic, University College Hospital (UCH) in London contacted university professor Tim Baker, who gave Ben an early break in his piloting career, asking if he could help with the government ventilation challenge.
UCH believed that creating fans was not the right way to go. They felt that a CPAP – a device that delivers a flow of oxygen-enriched air at constant pressure and is connected to a mask or hood – was the best way to see how hard Covid had hit the world. Italy. On a ventilator, patients should be cared for by an intensive care nurse, who can only attend to one or two patients at a time. On a CPAP, however, patients can be cared for by a regular nurse, who can look after 10 patients.
But there was a big problem – the UK didn’t have a lot of CPAPs available. A 25-year-old model was unearthed from the UCH museum and they needed someone who could ‘reverse engineer’ it – figure out how it was made and replicate it – and quickly.
Professor Baker just knew the man and contacted Ben, who got permission from his Mercedes bosses to take on the task and chose his top engineers to help him.
Ben said: âIn my head I had it (the device) looking like something from Wallace and Gromit.
“It turned out to be a very small plastic block with three valves and I took it back to the UCL labs and figured out how it worked pretty quickly.”
After a few grueling days, working until 6 a.m. and only getting two hours of sleep before starting over, they completed the design of their new Mark II UCL-Ventura device. Not only did they replicate it, but they improved it by changing the computational dynamics to reduce the amount of oxygen it was using – crucial in an era when there were concerns about oxygen supply as well. of the NHS.
Within 10 days of start-up, the project was finished. A prototype has been made, it has been clinician tested, quickly approved by the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency, and production has started.
Ben said: âI have been working in Formula 1 for 20 years. You are pushed hard and itâs quite stressful, but you have this mental retirement that itâs just racing, itâs not life and death. .
“But it was life or death. The few hours of sleep I stole, I felt guilty. I felt bad to leave every morning.”
The government quickly placed an order for up to 10,000 devices. Using the Mercedes factory in Brixworth, which was completely reused, they made 1,000 a day filling the order with workers, even packing them in the factory restaurant.
And, at no cost, the design was selflessly released so that it could be produced worldwide. Within a week, the designs were shared with over 1,300 teams in 25 countries and have since helped healthcare workers in over 90 countries. India needed thousands of CPAPs when they were hit by a devastating wave of Covid earlier this year.
The drawings were even uploaded by NASA, much to Ben’s surprise.
He said: âAs an engineer we always joke and say ‘it’s not rocket science’.
“Then all of a sudden NASA downloads your designs and you think maybe it is?” “
Ben, who has since left Mercedes after signing a deal to become technical director at rivals Red Bull Powertrains, said the hairs on his neck stood on end when he heard of the impact of his work.
He himself caught Covid in late March 2020, which he said must have been during his work on the project, and was ‘out of the question’ for two weeks.
He said: âFortunately, I didn’t need one of my own devices.
âWhile I was in bed, I was constantly being sent videos of them. It was very touching.â
He learned he was on the Honor Roll when he received a letter from the Cabinet Office, although he initially missed it.
Not having looked in the mailbox, his wife found it, but Ben vowed to keep it a secret and didn’t even tell his mother.
He said: “It was completely unexpected. It’s a hell of a thing.”
The full list of North Northamptonshire honors: Alison Duckles CBE (Wellingborough: Manager, Learning and Development, Laing O’Rourke. For Education Services), Yvonne baker obe (Rushden: Managing Director, STEM Learning. For STEM Education Services), Dylan Fletcher-Scott MBE (formerly from Desborough: Olympic gold medalist. For sailing services), Kevin Moseley MBE (Wollaston: Founder and CEO, SwimFin Ltd. For international trade, investment and charity services), Maisie Summers-Newton MBE (Wollaston: Paralympic gold medalist. For swimming services), Charlotte Worthington MBE (Corby: Olympic gold medalist. For services rendered to BMX races), TimothÃ©e Aldous BEM (Kettering: works supervisor, Forestry England. For forestry services), Ben Hodgkinson BEM (Geddington: CPAP device created. For NHS services during Covid-19), Vincent James BEM (Irchester: employee, Network Rail. For prisoner services), Aaron Shrive BEM (Desborough: Provided the NHS with PPE. For services related to the response to Covid-19), Julie West BEM (Rushden: Volunteer Poppy Appeal, branch of Rushden Royal British Legion. For voluntary service to veterans).