'Will Cogent stand ready?' — how one call led to a Suffolk firm's expansion

The team behind the creation of the ventillator created by Cogent Technology. L-R Linda Rose, Natal

The team behind the creation of the ventilator created by Cogent Technology. L-R Linda Rose, Natalie Foster, Philip Main, Trevor Jones, Jamie Hart, Michael Charlesworth, James Shepard, Emily Slater. - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A Suffolk-based medical technology manufacturer is looking to expand after it received a government contract to make ventilators at the beginning of the pandemic.

In March, the directors of Woodbridge-based Cogent Technology were on holiday in Egypt when the news about Covid-19 in the UK started to hit the headlines.

Robert Stainer, the firm's commercial director, said: "We went on holiday on March 19 and the lockdown came on March 23 so our flight got cancelled.

Robert Stainer, owner of Cogent Technologies, who were one of the first manufacturers to supply vent

Robert Stainer, commercial director of Cogent Technologies, which was one of the first manufacturers to supply ventilators to the government in March at the start of the pandemic. - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"It felt like a war at the beginning and I said to Nigel [the managing director]: 'there's not many medical device companies in the UK, we're going to get contacted'.

"Literally five minutes after that I got an email on my phone from the government saying we need to have a conversation."

By that afternoon Cogent's directors were on a conference call with a government official where the firm was asked to design and prepare to build ventilators from British materials.

Mr Stainer said: "At the end of our conversation we were asked 'will Cogent stand ready?' and we said 'yes, of course we will'.

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The firm had been given a government contract to build 13,500 emergency ventilators after a challenge among manufacturers looking for the best design.

Preparing for such a big order, the firm had to expand into a bigger facility in Felixstowe and purchase more equipment. 

Within six weeks, they had designed and begun to manufacture the ventilators.

The ventillator manufactured by Cogent Technologies in Felixstowe. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The ventilator manufactured by Cogent Technologies in Felixstowe. - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"They'd squashed two years work into six weeks," Mr Stainer said. "The guys were actually camping in the car park. They were sleeping for six hours and working for 18 hours a day designing it.

"What I saw in those six weeks I will never see again. Everyone was working together for a great cause: the British people."

The day before the final prototype had to be tested Cogent staff worked 20 hours to ensure it was delivered on time, according to Mr Stainer.

"By May we'd built the first ten and were just about to go into production on the next 100 when the government said stop, because the pandemic was starting to subside and they thought they had enough ventilators coming from other sources," Mr Stainer said.

"We got some fantastic letters from the government saying we'd done a brilliant job and stood firm."

Despite most of the emergency ventilators not being needed, the firm has big plans for the future.

Cogent is now developing incubators for use in warzones as well as ground-breaking cancer diagnostics equipment.

And it has gone from employing around 75 people last March to now having over 100 employees and plans are in place to more than treble the workforce.