3D printers and facilities around the world have been running at full capacity since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, all with the same goal: to help fill the vast need for personal protective equipment in the health care sector.
In the UK, this has resulted in a collaboration between 3DPRINTUK, a London-based SLS printing service and Arts University Bournemouth, which sought to develop a well-designed face shield that could be efficiently produced in large volumes using SLS technology.
In recent weeks, said the company, ‘some really clever and innovative designs have been released for people to produce but all have been designed and optimised for FDM printers’. “So we began to look at how we could optimise designs for the 3D printing technology that we use every day,” said Nick Allen, managing director at 3DPRINTUK.
Looking at the Prusa face shield design, for example, the company noted that only 14 individual head bands could be printed on its EOS FORMIGA P110 SLS machine at a time.
The team focussed on a design that the P110 could accommodate in much larger numbers. By nesting the main peak component inside one another, they were able to create one that allowed for 260 to be printed in a single print with a 27-hour build time.
“That is 6 minutes per shield, which is a game changer," said Allen. "The design that we created clips together in 10 seconds, uses silicone straps for adjustment, can take an acetate sheet with 3 holes, is lightweight at only 42 g, and is sterilisable with IPA, autoclave, or ethylene oxide (Et0).”
Additional design benefits include a closed peak design for extra protection, the material used (PA2200/Nylon 12) is biologically safe, and the shape has been designed so that it can be flat packed into an A4 envelope for cheap postage and storage.
Because 3DPRINTUK is working with the UK Cabinet and manufacturers on a number of large ventilator projects, which has taken up their own printing capacity, partners were needed to scale up production of the face shield, once the design was proven and validated.
Information relating to the design was released, and the first facility to take on the manufacturing role was the Arts University Bournemouth, which had both access to the P110 machine and laser cutting capabilities.
AUB has already produced an initial batch of 5000 units and more are underway. These shields will be distributed for free to front line key workers.
The arts university has been spearheading an effort by educational institutions to manufacture and create vital protective equipment for the healthcare sector. Since its campus closure in March, the university’s facilities have become a production line for visors, facemasks, scrubs and gowns, which are being distributed across a range of public healthcare settings.
3DPRINTUK invites anyone else with the SLS capacity to make the face shield to contact them. The company will share the design data free of charge.