3d Printing PPE during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Image of a visor on the print bed

Hardeep Adams
Senior Technical Instructor for Psychology in HAS.

On the 23rd of March 2020, Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. UWE pivoted to online teaching and most staff and students worked from home. The news widely reported the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hospitals and care homes and the difficulties around the shortages of supplies around the world.

My Husband and I felt, having four 3d printers in our spare room at home that surely, they could be put to some use to help with the increased demand for PPE? But we didn’t really know how, or who to contact. About a week after the nation went into lockdown, we saw an article on BBC news about 3dcrowd.uk who have united 3d printers across the UK to manufacture the frames for visors. Immediately we joined the effort to help those working in the NHS, care homes and other key workers. The 3dcrowd team provided a full Safe Operating Procedure on how to use our printers to print out the frames. First thing was to ensure that we cleaned our printers and equipment using surgical spirit, then we needed to make our own visors to wear during the printing process to minimise contamination. Once all of this was complete the manufacturing line was ready to commence printing.

The frames were printed using Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) or Polylactic Acid (PLA) filament, each frame took about 2.5 hours to print and I would start my first print at around 7am each day and keep the printers running up until 11pm at night. We already had several rolls of filament at home, but this soon ran out. I shared what we were doing with family and friends and so many people reached out and bought filament for us so we were able to keep printing, a BIG thank you to my colleagues in the BSC Psychology team who donated several rolls of filament to allow us to keep the printers running.

As a technician at UWE, based in Psychology my work has always been on campus and having to work from home was a big adjustment for me. But in between checking emails and supporting students I was setting up prints and bagging up frames ready to be shipped. My home office was setup in between the printers (and still is!) so I was able to keep an eye on the prints, ensuring that the first layer was ‘stuck’ to the print bed and making sure the quality was high. Also adjusting and checking temperature settings, print speed and cleaning surfaces and tools in between prints. 3dcrowd organised #theBIGprint and DPD logistics firm offered a free pickup if we were able to meet a deadline a few days after we first started producing. We were able to send out 60 frames that were delivered to a central hub in Sheffield where the frames were fitted with an acetate visor and elastic, then were sent to the hospitals that were most in need.

After the first 60 frames were shipped, 3dcrowd got a bit more organised and created regional hubs so we were able to help those in our local area, this was managed through the Slack online platform. We were added to a Newport/Gwent group and then we were supplying the Royal Gwent Hospital and a lot of care homes in the area. Our next shipment was 197 frames and our final shipment was 261 frames, making a grand total of 518 frames supplied for key workers. We were printing the frames from the 1st of April until about mid-June 2020, by which time supply chains were in place and the hospitals and care homes had adequate supplies to help keep them safe at work and 3dcrowd thanked us for our efforts and advised the frames were no longer required. The 3dcrowd went from a handful of volunteers to a charity organisation of over 8,000 volunteers and produced over 200,000 face shields for frontline workers.

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