Manufacturing engineering on display as University 3D prints face-shields

3D printing technology to manufacture face-shields for nurses, paramedics, care homes and other front-line caregivers across the region.

Using Prusa 3D printing machines from a variety of sources, including the Telford Innovation Campus where they’re used by students for engineering projects, staff have collaborated to perfect a fast and stream-lined manufacturing process for RC3 headbands using a polymer called Polyethylene terephthalate glycol modified (PETG). As a part of the social distancing policy, some staff are also printing headbands from home, using University equipment or personal 3D printers.

When the headbands are printed, a transparent plastic visor, cut to shape using the School of Engineering’s Zund cutting table, is added to the front, creating a protective barrier that shields the whole face.

Clare Nash, New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton.

Dr Syed Hasan, Head of the School of Engineering at the University, said: “Engineers have been discussing and collaborating on how to combat the COVID-19 pandemic even before we began social distancing.

“It was imperative that the School of Engineering in Telford contribute to the safety and wellbeing of our local and regional partners, especially as nursing and paramedic cohorts have just taken up residence at the Telford campus. Finding ways to quickly manufacture PPE (personal protective equipment) using the cutting edge technology we have available is very important, but the job is only half done. We need to produce thousands more masks in the coming weeks to help those who need it.”

PETG is a robust material to print in, meaning it can be sterilised and reused, unlike many of the current headbands that are being discarded after 3 hours of use on hospital wards and in care homes. A shipment of 50 visors has been delivered to Wolverhampton’s New Cross hospital, and 90 more have been delivered to community nurses. Almost 400 masks have been printed so far, with many more on the way in the coming weeks.

With more 3D printers being made available to the School of Engineering by their industrial contacts and collaborators every day, the team are hoping to get as many as 30 printers running in a 24 hour production process, with a machine making nine headbands per hour, and the potential to make over 1,500 headbands every 24 hours, provided they have enough of the PETG material.

Professor Nazira Karodia, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Regional Engagement, who is co-ordinating the University’s community response to COVID-19, said: “I’m proud of the team in the School of Engineering for their commitment to using their skills and knowledge to combat COVID-19.

“The facilities at the Telford Innovation Campus are world class, and the dedication of academics and technicians who are teaching students in virtual classrooms before heading into their workshops is outstanding.” 

The University is actively looking at other ways to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 and has donated PPE, including gloves, safety goggles and clinical waste bags to local NHS Trusts and a hospice as well as using its staff from the Faculty of Science and Engineering to produce hand and surface sanitiser for front line staff and members of the community who are volunteering.

The University has also made student accommodation available at its Walsall Campus for NHS Trust frontline staff – they are due to move in following the Easter Bank Holiday.  We have offered the use of 133 rooms for doctors, nurses, midwives and paramedics.  NHS Trust staff from New Cross Hospital have also been offered the use of student accommodation in Liberty Heights in Wolverhampton and local police will be using rooms in accommodation at City Campus.

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