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Mercedes repurposes F1 facility to fight coronavirus

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Mercedes and UCL develop life-saving ventilators (2:09)

Laurence Edmondson explains the mass-production of the ventilators developed by UCL and Mercedes. (2:09)

Mercedes has repurposed its Formula One engine factory in Brixworth, England, into a facility to produce breathing aids to assist with the fight against coronavirus.

Mercedes and University College London (UCL) have worked together to reverse-engineer a device known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). It is hoped the device will ease pressure on the U.K.'s National Health Service, which is at risk of encountering a shortage of ventilators as the number of severe COVID-19 cases rises.

Mercedes is producing 1,000 devices a day at its engine department -- known as the High Performance Powertrain technology centre -- to meet a U.K. government order of 10,000 for the NHS.

The factory is using 40 machines which would normally produce pistons and turbochargers for the engines Mercedes have used to win six consecutive F1 world championships.

On Tuesday, Mercedes, whose F1 operations are based in the U.K., confirmed the design of the device had been made freely available for manufacturers to download.

A spokesperson said: "We are hoping that by making this information widely available, this may help the global response to the crisis by enabling healthcare systems around the world to provide respiratory support for patients with COVID-19".

All seven U.K.-based F1 teams have answered the government's recent call for industry to increase the production of such equipment, under the collective banner 'Project Pitlane'.

Since March 18, Mercedes High Performance Powertrains (HPP), which supplies engines to the Mercedes F1 team, Racing Point and Williams, has been working with UCL to help scale up the production of CPAP machines. Starting by disassembling an off-patent device, the team at UCL managed to reverse engineer the design in less than 100 hours so that it is better suited for rapid mass production.

The new CPAP design has already been approved for use by the NHS and is being prepared for rapid rollout to hospitals around the country.

"Given the urgent need, we are thankful that we were able to reduce a process that could take years down to a matter of days," professor Tim Baker [UCL Mechanical Engineering] said.

"From being given the brief, we worked all hours of the day, disassembling and analysing an off-patent device. Using computer simulations, we improved the device further to create a state-of-the-art version suited to mass production.