University deploys 3D printing capability to help protect frontline staff during Covid-19 crisis

The University of Plymouth is part of a city-wide consortium providing 3D-printed face shields to frontline staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Technical and research staff from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business and the Faculty of Science and Engineering are using state-of-the-art knowledge and technology to create components for the face shields.

Once assembled, professionally packaged up and complete with instructions, hundreds of the items are being delivered to staff working across the city, in the hope that they will help lower their risk of infection when attending people who might be affected by the virus.

The consortium was put together in the space of a few days, and involves a range of partners including Babcock International, Plymouth Science Park, the Royal Navy and Plymouth College of Art, as well as independent 3D printing enthusiasts from the city’s maker community.

They have worked collectively for around a fortnight, including over the Easter weekend, to produce hundreds of the face shields.

To support the city-wide initiative, University technicians and academics in subjects including design, robotics and marine biology are using 3D printing equipment housed in the new Digital Fabrication Laboratory and the Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre, as well as labs within Smeaton Building and at Plymouth Science Park.

Components are also being printed by Babcock’s Devonport Royal Dockyard’s Additive Manufacture Team, and in Plymouth College of Art’s Fab Lab, as well as other private facilities in and around the city. The Royal Navy has a team of people who have this week started 3D printing in a workshop in Devonport Naval Base.

With Babcock coordinating the team effort, the staff at the various sites work on a rota basis, to ensure they observe government guidelines over social distancing. The open source components are then assembled and packaged in Devonport Royal Dockyard and delivered to frontline staff.

This situation is unprecedented, but has led to amazing shows of community support for all frontline health and social care staff.

The equipment donated by this consortium will be distributed to GPs, care homes and police across Plymouth. It will help to protect them as they go about their vital work in our city.

Andrew McMinn, Chief Procurement Officer at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust


<p>The University's 3D printers at work<br></p>
The University's 3D printers at work
<p>Technician Spencer Bailey at work in the Digital Fabrication Lab<br></p>
Technician Spencer Bailey at work in the Digital Fabrication Lab
<p>3D printers in operation at Plymouth Science Park</p>
3D printers in operation at Plymouth Science Park

Professor Chris Bennewith, Head of the School of Art, Design and Architecture, said:

“It is fantastic that the University can contribute to combatting the Covid-19 pandemic through this collaborative endeavour. It is a true demonstration of the valuable public contribution this and other universities make. It also exemplifies the value of creative subjects and creative interdisciplinary thinking to innovative and adaptive problem solving. We are very happy that the School’s resources and knowledgeable staff are able to make this small, but important contribution.”

Rupert Lorraine, Development and Partnership Manager within the Research and Innovation Directorate, added:

“We are delighted to be able to help in some small way to assist our fantastic NHS at this unprecedented time. This collaboration really highlights the concentration of talent, creativity and innovation that resides in Plymouth and demonstrates both the significant scale of the digital fabrication capability available across the city and how quickly it can be mobilised to help businesses and the community. We look forward to continuing to work together with everyone involved.”

<p>Parts being printed at Plymouth Science Park</p>
Parts being printed at Plymouth Science Park
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</p><div><div>One of the head shield components being created</div></div><p></p>
The head shield components being created
<p>Jake Gibson Shaw-Sutton's 3D printers at work<br></p>
Jake Gibson Shaw-Sutton's 3D printers at work

Babcock’s Additive Manufacture Team uses its state-of-the-art 3D printing skills and technology to undertake rapid prototyping and parts manufacture in support of Ministry of Defence customers.

Mike Homer, Babcock Managing Director at Devonport Royal Dockyard, said:

This is a critical time for the country as a whole. Together the consortium have been able to react quickly, using our experience to deliver innovative solutions, and we’re delighted to be able to work with the community to support the NHS to save lives

The Royal Navy also has a small team of people who have this week started 3D printing in a workshop in Devonport Naval Base.

<p>Finished products in the Digital Fabrication Lab<br></p>
Finished products in the Digital Fabrication Lab
<p>Completed components at Plymouth Science Park<br></p>
Completed components at Plymouth Science Park
<p>Boxes of components packaged up for delivery<br></p>
Boxes of components packaged up for delivery

CEO of Plymouth Science Park, Ian McFadzen, said:

“The NHS identified a need for visors to help keep frontline staff as safe as possible during the Covid-19 crisis, and it’s good that we can contribute, even in just this small way. The visor and full face shield were developed by Czech company Prusa, who issued the relevant downloadable files under a non-commercial licence so long as they were donated to those in need for free. Steve Holland (Estates and Facilities Manager) has been using our own 3D printing capability and working closely with a tenant from the University of Plymouth, Dr Oliver Tills. Together we have been working flat out, providing hundreds of essential parts for the NHS and across the community, organisations are coming together to help in so many different ways.”

The Fab Lab, based on site at Plymouth College of Art, has had a team of technicians working on a socially-distanced rotating basis and creating up to 100 components a week which are then disinfected and processed and assembled. Fab Lab manager Ben Mundy said:

“When we were approached regarding the project, we knew the Fab Lab was perfectly positioned to get involved. Thanks to open source designs, we’re able to put our facilities to good use while Plymouth College of Art is closed and contribute to the shortage of PPE available to our vital frontline medical key workers. Utilising our four 3D printers, we’ve been able to accommodate the production of components for medically approved facial visors. This is a great example of how working together can inspire creative and innovative solutions.”

<p>The assembly line at Babcock<br></p>
The assembly line at Babcock
<p>James Bye from Babcock with some of the delivered components<br></p>
James Bye from Babcock with some of the delivered components
<p>A finished visor ready to be delivered to the NHS<br></p>
A finished visor ready to be delivered to the NHS

University staff involved in the project