How 3D printing wizards are helping keep heroes safe by producing hundreds of protective visors for key workers

3D-printing wizards in Sunderland and South Tyneside have been producing personal protection equipment (PPE) to help key workers safe from coronavirus.

Thursday, 16th April 2020, 6:00 am

Shortages of key protective equipment have rarely been far from the headlines since the coronavirus crisis began, and companies of all shapes and sizes have been stepping in to help out.

Now a network of 3D-printing experts have been using their skills to provide protective visors to those who need them.

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Andy McDowell and Laura Jones, with their handiwork which is helping save lives

Among them is Laura Jones, who produced hundreds of medical visors from her home in Sunderland after responding to a Facebook post appealing for people to help manufacture PPE.

Setting up a fundraising page to pay for materials, Laura made 50 visors using her own 3D printer, but following an increase in demand she contacted Sunderland College who provided three machines from City Campus as well as donating spools of plastic.

"I'm normally a supply teacher for art and technology but I'm not working because of COVID-19," Laura said.

"I was approached on an artist teacher network by someone asking for those with 3D printers to help make PPE.

"I set up a fundraiser on Facebook and approached the companies I'm affiliated with to see if I could borrow their machines, and Sunderland College were very kind in providing materials and three printers.

"I've had support from a lot of people, some through donations of money for materials, and companies such as Hobbycraft, FabLab, BST Fabrics and Factory Fabrics have donated acetate, PLA and elastic.

"I'm a bit overwhelmed with the incredible response from everyone and now I can make a maximum of 48 a day to help local hospitals and care homes."

Laura has so far raised more than £1,200 through her fundraiser, with any money remaining being donated to local STEM community education programmes, such as teaching the elderly how to 3D print, and helping children learn manufacturing techniques such as laser cutting.

The donation comes after staff at Sunderland College’s City Campus handed over hundreds of face masks, protective eye wear, coveralls and protective gloves to South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust from the college’s vocational learning programmes including hair and beauty, construction and engineering.

In response to a phenomenal and unprecedented need for equipment the government has provided 761 million pieces of PPE across the UK's hospitals, hospices, care homes, home care providers, GPs, pharmacists and dentists since the COVID-19 outbreak, which includes 158 million surgical masks and medical visors.

With a continuing surge in demand, universities, colleges, schools and community volunteers have joined with the manufacturing industry to produce additional PPE for front line workers and carers.

Andy McDowell, from Hebburn, is another 3D-printing wizard who has been helping make kit for key workers, producing visors at home as well as working with Laura to cope with orders.

“At a rough guess I would say I have now made and donated close to 220 face shields,” he said.

“My sister Steph has been doing a fantastic job of directing the orders between Laura and I from the people who have contacted her directly.

“I managed to speak with a few other 3D printer owners and together we have been able to coordinate resources and get shields out faster to those in need.”

Andy said his sister Stephanie McDowell has been dropping off face shields as well as taking in requests for equipment, and his wife Angela McDowell had made him a HEPA filter lined face mask to try and keep the production of the shields as clean as possible.

“Steph has been vital in making contact with the various care homes and front line workers to take requests for donations,” he said.

Andy added Laura was better-suited to handling large orders thanks to her access to college printers, and also praised Col Stead, Dave Butler and others for their efforts.

“I managed to speak with a few other 3D printer owners and together we have been able to coordinate resources and get shields out faster to those in need,” he said

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