When the coronavirus pandemic struck, many researchers within the fields of science, medicine and engineering looked for ways their skills could be utilised to support healthcare professionals when dealing with this unprecedented pressure on the NHS frontline.
Like many, IMPACT Senior Fund Development Officer, Dr Dimitris Pletsas knew of the possibilities of using 3D printers to produce equipment such as visors and face shields. Along with other academic colleagues, he teamed up with the Amman Valley MakerSpace programme in Carmarthenshire to form Frontline 3D Print Farms to co-ordinate the effort.
This new collaboration looked at ways to develop existing files and now has the capacity to produce 600 face shields a day with over 40 3D printers involved in the operation. It is a community led project that relies solely on public donations (and material donations from local companies) and consists of individuals with various expertise from academia, industry, local authorities, and community groups including TATA, Vortex IOT, Cwmaman Town Council and Amanwy Development Services.
This 3D visor printing movement, initiated by Dr Pletsas, links to a recent outreach programme where IMPACT (and the College of Engineering) loaned 3D printers to local schools to create a digital race event, supported by local companies (with Rt Hon First Minister Mark Drakeford AM praising the effort when he visited the project in December). This created a network of likeminded academics, companies and people driving forward 3D printing education in the region. It is this network, which now forms the basis of Frontline 3D Print Farms.
In March, as the situation in the UK intensified, Dr Pletsas recalled the printers and quickly adapted them so that they could produce face shields for front line workers. These printers, and those purchased from donations from the public, will be donated back to local schools once they are no longer required.
To date, over 11,000 face shields have been printed, assembled and delivered to hospitals and care homes across South Wales. The success of the operation has resulted in the group sharing their files for use with contacts across the UK, Singapore and America.
Dr Pletsas, who created the files, re-designed a shield initially used in New York. The design sees the shield kept away from the face and can be used with goggles and respirator – with the visor closed from the top, which Dr Pletsas considers to be the flaw in other designs.
This improved design has recently been given approval by Hywel Dda University Health Board.
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates, recently commended the project: “Amman Valley MakerSpace is helping to protect our frontline healthcare heroes so they can focus on saving the lives of others. Incredible efforts such as theirs shows what is possible with innovation, collaboration, and urgency. I would like to thank them for all they are doing.”
Professor Johann Sienz, Director of IMPACT has praised the initiative saying: “Dimitris has inspired and supported the creation of hubs around South Wales. He advised them on setup, what and how, and he has created a localised distribution network to address immediate frontline requirements.”
Want to help?
If you have a 3D printer and can help, please contact Rob Venus from Amanwy Development Services on Amanwydt@gmail.com.