Author: Dave Wood
It wasn’t much of a surprise when the University was forced into a virtual shutdown towards the end of March. It was, however, a very uncertain time for everyone, as remains the case now. At that point in time, the initiative amongst a group of Mech Eng academics to help local hospitals, surgeries and pharmacies was already underway on a small scale. Shortly after the shutdown, permission was granted to reopen the Mech Eng teaching lab to facilitate what was inevitably going to be a huge demand.
A rota system was set up and members of staff from across the faculty signed up as volunteers, working in groups of only four at a time, in order to observe the social distancing rules that are now a part of our everyday lives. The process of making the face shields is remarkably straightforward, using acetate sheets, foam strips and elastic. The procedure involves simply cutting the acetate to shape, sticking a foam strip to the sheet and then stapling elastic to the sheet at either end of the foam strip. When acetate sheets arrive pre-cut the process is simple enough to allow the production of more than 800 face shields in a three and a half hour shift of four people.
Alongside this, eye visors are also being manufactured, consisting of two parts. Pre-cut acetate has been bought in to make these, while we have been manufacturing frames to go with them. There have been a number of different ideas trialled for the frames, including 3D printing, laser cutting and even bending welding rod to the correct profile. Using the laser cutters has been the most efficient method and thousands have been created by this method so far. To date we have exceeded 30,000 face shields and 3,000 visors. More recently we have started laser cutting ‘ear protectors’ for medical staff who wear face masks that are attached around the ears.
It has been great to see the technical team make such a great contribution to this effort, with new ideas coming forward all the time and the productivity levels being far higher than were anticipated to be possible when production started. Not to mention the willingness to give up their own time during a period where leaving home is in itself deemed to be a risk. From a personal point of view, I have found it a valuable experience for a number of reasons. The benefits to the hospitals and the medical staff that use the equipment speak for themselves. Every visit I have made to deliver equipment to hospitals has seen a huge level of gratitude for the work being done. Positive coverage in the local media and personal recognition from the Vice Chancellor to those volunteering have been well received by all involved. An opportunity to make use of the laser cutters for the first time has been enjoyable, as well as volunteering having provided a welcome break from being isolated at home! As things stand, production continues to be extended week on week. It appears that the total manufactured will increase substantially further before production is halted. It has been an operation of which everyone involved will be able to look back on with a great deal of pride, when some degree of normality returns to everyone’s lives.
Find out more in this great video put together by the RUH.