Elsy, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, hit pause on his retirement plans and rolled up his sleeves to help tackle the national health emergency.
The former Jaguar Land Rover and BMW executive organized the VentilatorChallengeUK — a consortium of 33 businesses from the aerospace, automotive, motorsport and medical sectors that marshaled their factories and work forces to assemble ventilators.
"We help companies with complex manufacturing technologies," Elsy said of his day job running the research center. "I knew the sort of people to get together to rise to this challenge."
Over three months, industrial powerhouses such as Airbus, Ford and Siemens came together to turbocharge production of two ventilator devices. One was an existing design made by Smiths Group, the other a new device based on an adaptation of technology from a small anesthesia equipment maker, Penlon.
The initiative's scale — like its mission — was mammoth, involving 5,500 people working around the clock across nine sites. Over 12 weeks, the coalition built 13,437 ventilators — or about 20 years of production.
The leadership team self-organized around the task. People were picked for their skills and passions, with a flat workstream structure.
"We delegated responsibilities to the fittest athletes — to the people who had the best capability," Elsy said. "Stripes and seniority counted for nothing. Outcomes were everything."
The focus was on output and the learning curve was steep. Ventilator peak production exceeded 400 devices a day; the shortest time spent to build 1,000 ventilators was less than three days.