Engineers at the University of Glasgow are producing 1,000 pieces of personal protective equipment a day during the COVID-19 crisis.
A team from the University’s James Watt School of Engineering has repurposed an injection moulding machine, usually used to support research projects.
The equipment is now making protective visors for frontline workers and carers.
Over the last couple of weeks, they have created more than 3,000 visors and made them available free of charge to those in need, including shop assistants and care home workers.
Production is going well but the team is appealing for donations of acetate sheets to keep the machine running.
The School’s Professor Nikolaj Gadegaard said: “A few weeks ago, when it was emerging that carers were likely to be affected by shortages of PPE, we were keen to do whatever we could to help.
“We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to use the expertise we have here at the James Watt School of Engineering to come up with a very promising safety visor which could make a difference for frontline staff.
“The School provided us with the funds to start investigating our options and buy the raw materials we need, which means we can offer the visors free of charge to carers.”
The engineers initially pooled 3D printers from across the University to make prototype headbands based on open-source designs shared on the internet.
However, they soon realised that the printing process was very slow compared to injection moulding, which uses molten plastic injected into moulds to quickly produce large numbers of items.
School technicians Tom Dickson and Wilson Macdougall worked flat-out for three days to create a mould template suitable for use in the University’s equipment, which manufactured small parts for biomedical research before the pandemic began.
Now the team can produce a headband in just 26 seconds, and could manufacture 1,000 a day or more for as long as they are required by carers.
“Having our own injection moulding tools allows us to produce at a scale each day which is equivalent to nearly 100 3D printers working around the clock.”
The team anticipate a need for assistance with materials from other organisations and members of the public in the near future.
Prof Gadegaard added: “We currently have enough raw material to keep producing the headbands themselves for several weeks, and expect to be receiving more from suppliers soon.
“However, the plastic acetate visors themselves are becoming more difficult to source, and that could be where we start to run into trouble.
“We’ve already issued a plea to colleagues for spare 250micron acetate sheets and we’d be happy to hear from anyone who would be willing to donate any they might have in their stationery cupboards.
“Anyone who would like to help can get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If we receive more than we can use, we will be happy to share with the many other local groups who are working hard to provide visors to those in need.”