COVID-19 and Engineering

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Engineering

17th November 2020


COVID-19 and Engineering

Discussion over Zoom


Chair – Professor the Lord Broers


•   Andrew Peters – Managing Director at Siemens Digital Factory, Congleton

•   Pam Cheng – Executive Vice President and President of Global Operations and IT, AstraZeneca

Recording: Covid-19 and Engineering 


Lord Broers began the meeting by thanking everyone for attending. He explained that this was the first APPEG virtual meeting, but the hope was to return to physical meetings later next year. Lord Broers also discussed the challenges facing the UK, namely Covid-19 and the engineering response to the crisis.

Lord Broers then introduced the first of the distinguished speakers, Andrew Peters.


Andrew Peters – Siemens

Andrew Peters is the Managing Director at Siemens Digital Factory in Congleton. In his current position, Andrew is responsible for all stages of the production process for general motion control variable speed drive products. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Andrew led a team to develop ventilators in response to a government plea. In doing so, the team designed and built a factory from scratch, and scaled production from 10 ventilators per week to 1500 per week.


Addressing the virtual meeting, Andrew began by highlighting what a fantastic time it is to be entering the engineering world. He started his career in 1988 and came into an industry that was underinvested and without apprenticeship schemes. He explained that during his career, he has worked through three decades of transition within the engineering industry. Andrew marked a turning point in 2008 when a shift in mindsets occurred within the UK. To continue wealth creation in the UK, it was vital that the economy becomes more productive, something that the engineering industry is all about. This has led to an increase of apprenticeships, an increase in investment and a shift in culture within universities.


Referencing the current technological advancements within society, Andrew remarked that we were now in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. Two examples of this can be seen from work during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent response from those within the industry. During the initial outbreak, ICU ventilator capacity stood at 7500 and reasonable worst-case scenarios predicted the UK would need 30,000. Without this additional capacity, doctors and nurses would’ve had to have made decisions about to whom ICU ventilator beds were allocated to. A team led by Andrew answered the Government’s call for industries to help bring capacity up, something that the team did in conjunction with Penlon, a medical manufacturing firm who already produced ventilators. By examining the manufacturing processes already used by Penlon, Siemens were able to scale up production from an initial 10 per week to 1500, helping to meet the demand needed by the country.


Delving more deeply into how this was possible, Andrew cited an example of a problem faced by the team when scaling up production so rapidly. Flow meter needles are an integral aspect of the ventilation system; they control the amount of air and oxygen the patient receives. Usually, it would take some 45 minutes to calibrate these and ensure they are fit for purpose, something that is unsustainable with a target of 1500 ventilators per week. In overcoming this, Andrew gathered together graduates, apprentices and other employees and set the task of reducing this phase of development down to 2 minutes. In fact, the solution found was improved to become fully automated.


In these two examples, Andrew highlighted the importance of the engineering industry in combating the pandemic. In doing so, engineers solved problems and did things that others couldn’t. This was the resounding message he wanted to leave with the students and encouraged students to pursue a career in engineering.


Lord Broers then introduced the second distinguished speaker, Pam Cheng.


Pam Cheng – AstraZeneca

Pam Cheng joined AstraZeneca in 2015 as executive vice president of Global Operations and Information Technology (IT), guiding the company’s manufacturing, supply chain, procurement, and IT across 18 countries and leading a team of over 19,000.


Pam began her talk by commending the work done by engineers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and noted that she had never seen the amount of ingenuity or enterprise before. When asked what she does, Pam always responds that she is an engineer, not a manager or director, and that engineering is more than a career or discipline, it is a mindset.


Whilst giving an overview of the work done by AstraZeneca, Pam gave a brief overview of the company’s aims and objectives. The team at AstraZeneca work on all aspects of the medicine supply chain, from drug discovery to drug delivery. During the pandemic, the priority was to ensure there was a safe and constant supply of medicines to patients, particularly to those with pre-existing health conditions who are more susceptible Covid-19. Referencing the vaccine development being carried out by AstraZenica in coalition with Oxford University, Pam noted the unprecedented ability of AstraZeneca to supply 3 billion doses of the vaccine should it pass clinical trials. This is being done in an equitable manner to ensure it is available to all. She argued that the virus can only be defeated if there is a coherent, global response. AstraZeneca currently have 10,000 volunteers enrolled in clinical trials and have worked closely with the government throughout the pandemic.


Pam also spoke of the importance of developing their monoclonal antibody treatment as the vaccine will only be effective if the recipient has a functioning immune system. Therefore, in conjunction with monoclonal antibody treatment, the vaccine can be equally effective to groups with weakened immune systems.


Referencing the crucial role that engineering plays within AstraZeneca, Pam noted the importance of engineering in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. During the initial development of the vaccine, AstraZeneca repurposed a sterile powder filling line into a biosafety containment facility dedicated to the vaccine; going from concept to completion in 21 weeks – a process which would usually take 18-24 months. Engineers used innovation and creative techniques to achieve this unprecedented feat.


In closing her remarks, Pam noted that whilst there is a lot about the pandemic that we do not know, one thing we do know is life will be very different after the pandemic.


Questions and Answers


Q1 – The Lord Mair

Question – How difficult was it to get the ventilator design accepted by the medical authorities?


Answer – Andrew Peters


Andrew responded by highlighting that they worked with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at all stages of the design process. This included daily progress meetings so they could run in parallel with the MHRA and show them any new processes that differed from the Penlon blueprint, should existing best practice fail. This ensured that the MHRA were kept abreast of any developments during the design process.



Q2 – Russell Jackson, AECOM

Question – With the pandemic, engineering ingenuity and creativity has been so powerful and progressed so quickly. What have we got to keep doing differently in engineering after the pandemic, so that we keep the same pace of progress?


Answer – Pam Cheng


Pam reiterated the importance of learning the lessons of the pandemic. Referencing some of the unprecedented work that has been done by engineers throughout the duration of the pandemic, she noted that it was vital to hold on to the creativity and ingenuity shown and not to go back to the old way of doing things once life gets back to normal.


Answer – Andrew Peters


Andrew spoke of the detriments of autocratic leadership and the importance of creating the basis for a creative environment. He spoke of the new methods of working that are to be implemented at Siemens, particularly regarding agile working and setting tight time scales, without overbearing autocracy.


Q3 – The Lord Ravensdale

Question – What lessons could be learned from the agile approach that you have taken during the Covid-19 pandemic for future industry challenges related to net zero?


Answer – Andrew Peters


Andrew began his answer by stating that the mindset before the pandemic was that great things could not be achieved without travelling to customers and bringing people together physically. He reiterated the benefits of digital collaboration and the positive knock-on impact this has on the environment. Referencing the net zero target, he spoke of the easy solutions that can be put in place to help to achieve this, but what is lacking at the moment is a coherent and clear plan to achieve this. There needs to be a culture instilled that is based on efficiency within companies, and along the industry supply chain.


Answer – Pam Cheng


Pam spoke of the proximity of the impending climate crisis, and the work that AstraZeneca have done to fulfil their carbon neutral 2025 target and their carbon negative 2030 target. One of the lessons that can be learned from the pandemic is to set bold and ambitious targets. The experience of the pandemic has shown that setting these ambitious targets and meeting them can be done.


Q4 – Tony O’Donnell, Engineering Director

Question – I firmly believe that people innovate, not businesses, what are the key enablers to encourage engineers in particular to think more creatively and step outside of the boxes, rules and standards that they are often so comfortable hiding behind?


Answer – Pam Cheng

Pam spoke of the importance of managers removing the barriers set and enabling engineers to work freely. It is vital to empower teams of engineers and trust in their work. Solutions to some of the biggest problems can often be achieved by taking such risks.


Answer – Andrew Peters


When visiting other companies, Andrew noted the stifling environment that many operate within because of the regimented organisational design. By breaking down the barriers of organisational design and setting targets without these constraints, fantastic results can be achieved.


Q5 – Neil Wilkinson, Bemrose School

Question – How has diversity changed within engineering, and more specifically, how has the pandemic affected diversity within the industry?


Answer – Pam Cheng


Pam touched on two aspects of diversity in her answer. Firstly, she touched on the impact that Covid-19 has had in bringing the world closer together, something that encouraged the whole global engineering world to come together. This promotes work with engineers from all over the world, with different cultures and different experiences. An example of this at AstraZeneca occurred during the pandemic through the ultilisation of virtual reality headsets and devices, which enabled virtual troubleshooting.


Pam then moved on to the second aspect of her answer and encouraged all the females within the meeting to think about engineering as a career option. From her own experiences, she noted that when she graduated, classrooms were only 10% female, however this figure is now rising and the potential for women to make an impact in the industry is unlimited.


              Answer – Andrew Peters


Andrew began looking at factory layouts during the pandemic to cater for social distancing measures, and one employee highlighted the lack of accessibility for disabled persons. Leaders still have a long way to go to ensure that talent is recruited from all walks of life, and ensuring locations are suitable for all forms part of this.



Professor the Lord Broers closed discussions by thanking our distinguished speakers, excellent guests and event organisers, particularly in these challenging times. It is hoped that events will return to the House of Lords as soon as guidance permits.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Engineering

22nd January 2020

The Changing World of Nuclear

Discussion over lunch in the Cholmondeley Room, House of Lords


Chair – Professor the Lord Broers


  • Julia Pyke – Director of Financing and Economic Regulation at EDF Energy
  • Mike Roberts – Principal Nuclear Safety Assessor at Atkins / SNC-Lavalin


The Lord Broers, Chairman of the group, began by thanking everyone who attended and discussed the importance of modern, forward thinking engineering. He highlighted the young people in the room and the role that they can play in tackling the industry’s growing challenges.

Lord Broers introduced our distinguished speakers.



Julia Pyke – EDF Energy

 As SZC Director of Financing and Economic Regulation, Julia is currently working with the Government to identify an innovative way for Sizewell C to be funded. This is to ensure that the plant runs at best value for electricity consumers, as well as investors.

Prior to joining EDF Energy in 2017 to develop Sizewell C, Julia was Head of ‘Power and Renewable’ for the UK, United State & Europe, at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP (HSF). Whilst at HSF, Julia led a cross-practice team advising Hinkley Point C throughout its investment process, until its final investment decision in 2016.

Her experience has seen Julia become a member of the CBI Energy and Climate Change Board, a Fellow of the Energy Institute and member of the advisory board for Business in the Community – East of England.

Addressing the room, Julia began by highlighting that today, around 20% of the UK’s current electricity demand is generated by nuclear power, and this is around half of the UK’s low carbon electricity. All of the UK’s existing nuclear stations will turn off over the next decade, other than Sizewell B, which provides around 3% of current need. The UK needs to at least replace these existing stations if the UK is to meet its net zero commitments.

To understand the carbon emitted by different electricity systems, Julia implored guests to download app: ‘Electricity Map’. Julia’s demonstration of the app highlighted that some countries benefit from geography which gives them enough hydro or geothermal power. However, of those countries without geographical good fortune, the developed countries which have a consistently low carbon output from their electricity systems, use a mix of nuclear and renewable. 

Turning to her own experiences at Sizewell C and Hinkley Point C, Julia dispelled some of the misconceptions of nuclear power and its volatility. Despite headlines, nuclear power is the safest way of making electricity (OECD). Strict regulation has supported the safe production of nuclear energy in the UK for more than 50 years. Whilst there is carbon production and carbon use in site construction (as for any major construction) this is off-set within a few months of the plant starting operations.

To reduce costs, Julia proposed the solution to simply ‘copy’ Hinkley Point C, which has a detailed design approved by the UK regulator. It was agreed that research into alternative plants should continue, but whilst there is a safe and functioning model available, this should be reproduced at other locations in the country. This would minimise unexpected costs accrued during unpredictable planning and development of new projects.

Nuclear is a part of the future electricity mix, working with renewables, to ensure a clean and cost effective system 365 days of every year.

Julia rounded up her talk by reminding guests to look further than the media and more at facts. To the future generation, Julia echoed sentiments from the Chair’s opening remarks; that the young people in the room should look to the nuclear industry for high quality, high skilled jobs, which are rewarding on many different levels and which help solve climate change.


Mike Roberts – Atkins / SNC-Lavalin

As a Principal Nuclear Safety Assessor, Mike Roberts delivers nuclear safety assessments for new nuclear stations, existing generating stations, decommissioning sites and defence sectors. With a Masters in ‘Physics and Technology of Nuclear Reactors’, Mike is also Chartered with the Institute of Physics.

Until recently he was Chair of the Nuclear Institute’s Young Generation Network (YGN), leading the Institute’s work for those under the age of 37. In this role he delivered a range of seminars, technical tours, STEM activities and networking events, engaging with various international YGN networks. He was also one of the lead organisers of the European Nuclear Young Generation Forum, the largest youth nuclear conference with 32 countries in attendance.

Mike’s determination to enthuse and promote the next generation of young engineers, was channelled throughout his talk. He began by acknowledging the diversity in the room and during questions, stressed to the young professionals of the benefits of finding a mentor to help them progress in the industry.

Next, Mike discussed the goal of achieving Carbon Neutral by 2050 and the need to ‘find real life solutions to real life problems.’ However, to do this, nuclear energy cannot be the sole focus.

As important as it is, and should continue to be pursued, tackling building heating and transport emissions are also a must. In parallel with nuclear and renewable energy production, carbon capture, the banning of carbon producing cars and making changes to over 27 million homes and buildings, is essential in reaching all climate targets. Supporting technologies such as hydrogen fuel will require large-scale hydrogen production through means such as electrolysis and steam-methane reforming.

Mike also discussed the low technical risks of nuclear technology – but equally recognised that it has high commercial risk. The need for continuing investment is essential and it is often the case that projects stall from difficulties in attracting private investment. He recognised a potential move to RAB investment model and collaboration with the Government as a solution.

In full circle, Mike concluded with a reflection of the tools and solutions needed to make positive changes and advancements. Engineers, new and established, should embrace new technologies, encourage future engineers and make industry commitments to continue to be more inclusive.


 Questions and Answers


 Q1 – The Lord Ravensdale

               Question – How would it be possible to reduce costs that are currently accrued during nuclear energy production?

               AnswerJulia Pyke

Julia argued that by copying existing models, with the same designs and team, this would automatically reduce costs. She suggested that it is not always necessary to produce something that is the first of its kind. By imitating the ‘tried and tested’ model, the industry will save both time and money.


Q2 – Ross Deacon – Thales

               Question – How can we modularise nuclear production?

               AnswerMike Roberts

It was discussed that modulorisation of nuclear build projects is already in practice. Mike also referred to Small Modular Reactor (SMR) projects being undertaken which could change what the nuclear industry can offer. However, Mike referenced the financial difficulties associated with funding large-scale nuclear power plants, which may make smaller SMR technologies attractive. Hence the reason why countries turn to importing certain forms of energy from overseas. Mike argued that the UK should look to alternative means of production to support nuclear energy, renewable energy and the country-wide move to carbon neutral.

               AnswerJulia Pyke

Julia largely agreed with Mike’s assessment but proposed that additional costs could be avoided by copying working models.


Q3 – James Gibson – Abingdon School

               Question – As an expensive industry, why doesn’t the government inject the necessary finance to make the industry more sustainable and sufficient? Especially when taking into consideration the industry’s importance and the worsening climate crisis.

               AnswerJulia Pyke

Julia would gladly welcome more government investment and Mike nodded in agreement. They both appreciate the difficulty of allocating budget across the country and emphasised the need for alternative forms of investment.


Q4 – Simone Schmieder – Wood Thilsted Partners

               Question – Given that 95% of nuclear waste is not dangerous, what should be done with the remaining 5% which is? And; How will this impact the future generations who are exposed?

               AnswerMike Roberts

One way to take toxic waste and protect the environment and people, is to look at geological disposals. Mike reasoned that if submerged deep enough, nuclear waste which is harmful, is less likely to have an impact. He took into consideration how nuclear energy has now been in use for over 60 years and that industry produced waste has been proportionate and dealt with cautiously. He also explained that there are projects looking at addressing the solutions in more efficient ways and that this would come about soon. The room raised suggestions of alternative, for example under water and space disposal, which have been investigated before and not identified as a feasible disposal route.


Q5 Ana-Maria Miron – Excelsior School

               Question – What would each speakers advice be to young women who have or might decide to look to the industry for a career?

               AnswerJulia Pyke

It is a great career choice exclaimed Julia. It’s a 50:50 representative industry, where you can see the world and connect with loads of interesting people. Julia also discussed how the industry isn’t always obviously attractive or easy to understand. In order to counteract this, Julia mentioned how EDF are looking at producing specific advertisement with celebrities who have a background in engineering.

               Answer Mike Roberts

Mike agreed and suggested that anyone, male or female, looking to get into the industry should seek out a mentor. This mentor should be a few steps ahead of themselves in their career, as this would allow them to see and understand what it’s really like to be in engineering.


Q6 Brigadier Richard Bennett – Defence College of Technical Training

               Question – How will the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, especially institutions such as Euratom, impact the country’s engineering standing and access to research and funding? Do you think these institutions will be replaced?  


Both Julia and Mike agreed that they expect some changes, but that the industry will remain largely unchanged. To tackle the big engineering issues facing the world, exchanges of funding, research and people must continue.


Q7 – Egor Kaygorodov – KCL Maths School  

               Question – Where does the UK sources its Uranium from and are we dependent on other country’s production?

               AnswerMike Roberts

Mike discussed how the UK sources it’s Uranium from places such as Australia and countries across Africa, as the UK doesn’t have uranium resources itself. He went on discuss that unlike the oil industry, where there are numerous political issues and much higher intercountry dependency, nuclear production is less dependent with few political caveats.

               Answer Julia Pyke

Julia contributed that nuclear energy production is very much like other sectors and industries, where it isn’t always possible to manufacture every component for its production. She also mentioned how it may become possible to create a UK supply chain through recycling and reusing materials.



The Lord Broers closed the discussion, by thanking our guest, excellent speakers and organisers.