About the organisation
TWI is a global membership organisation that provides expert, impartial advice in advanced engineering, materials and joining technologies. TWI helps its members create the best products possible – and supports everything from R&D and prototyping, to commissioning, installation, and training. Descended from the British Welding Research Association, it employs 1,200 staff and has been operating for over 70 years.
The challenges to address
With the COVID-19 crisis leading to increased demand for critical supplies like ventilators, hand sanitiser and facemasks, UK industry has stepped up to provide the NHS with the products needed to fight the pandemic. TWI knew they wanted to play their part to support the national effort.
Goals and outcomes
TWI were talking to members that were keen to help the national effort, but needed expert technical guidance to enable them to innovate and adapt their existing operations. For businesses to begin manufacturing ventilators, products upon which people’s lives depend, businesses switching their operations to produce them must have 100% confidence that the materials used and the way they are joined is fit for purpose. That’s where TWI realised they could help. They realised they could support the national effort by providing their members with the expertise and validation needed to meet demand.
TWI has since worked with multiple members to help develop bespoke responses to the ventilator and PPE challenges. They are working with firms looking at how to repurpose existing operations – either by changing design and materials to suit the available equipment set, or by bringing in new equipment with a consequent need for a very rapid ramp-up in understanding of unfamiliar processes.
Working across a variety of projects, their teams have:
- Used numerical modelling to validate new designs – using advanced simulations to dramatically reduce the process from a few months to a few weeks
- Provided specialist advice on the solid-state welding of polymers – the process used to create facemasks
- Coordinated links between medical design companies and manufacturers in order to produce vital laser cut components
- Consulting on joining processes for the outer shells of ventilators and the welding of plastics for critical supplies.
The approach to roll out
“We have had to work hard to overcome significant challenges – from trying to reduce the time it takes to validate new products – to the very real impact of the coronavirus on our own business operations,” says TWI Head of Marketing, Mike Emmett.
“As with many other firms, we’ve had to adopt new ways of working incredibly quickly. People have always been at the heart of TWI, so we knew they would be the key to a smooth transition. Getting people to adapt to new ways of working and be comfortable with change has to be built on trust – and we needed to ensure work could continue to be safe for everyone. That’s why we acted early to put safety measures in place to protect those staff working onsite, and we’ve also committed to topping up payments of those on furlough to 100% as we know financial concerns can cause employees a lot of anxiety.”
TWI leadership was initially concerned about the impact that COVID-19 would have on membership, but because early on they developed a plan centred on reaching out and engaging with customers, they feel they’ve managed to strengthen their brand with members. “Firms are feeling they can’t miss out on trusted expertise at a time where things are changing – so we’ve actually seen a increase in membership. We put this down to our amazing employees – who have been working hard to engage with customers and support them through these tough times,” says TWI Head of Marketing, Mike Emmett.
Advice for other businesses
For TWI, it’s not about trying to help with everything, but on focusing where your business can make a difference based on your unique strengths.