3DPRINTUK, one of the very first production-focused 3D printing service providers in London, partnered with Arts University Bournemouth to manufacture an optimized SLS face shield design for front-line provision of PPE and released it for everyone to use.
As the COVID-19 emergency is now taking a heavy toll on the UK, here like in many other countries, the 3D printing community has responded massively with a giant effort to close the gap between supply and demand for PPE for front-line NHS workers. In recent weeks, some really clever and innovative designs have been released for people to produce but all have been designed and optimized for FDM printers.
“From the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, in common with numerous other 3D printing companies, we analysed [note: we purposely are leaving this in UK-English] ways in which we could make useful interventions and help the efforts of the NHS,” said Nick Allen, MD at 3DPRINTUK. “One thing we noticed was that many of the face shield related designs were perfectly suited for FDM machines, but didn’t work well with the SLS process. As a company, we are intimately associate with SLS, and have printed over 2 million SLS prints, so we began to look at how we could optimise designs for the 3D printing technology that we use every day.”
What the team at 3DPRINTUK noticed when they looked, for example, at the forerunning Prusa face shield design was that only 14 individual headbands could be printed on the 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,” Nick – who has been able to emerge among many AM service providers exactly for his ability to dramatically accelerate the SLS production workflow – said. “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). All in all, we believe that this is the most efficient visor design to produce via 3D printing available today.”
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.
Once the design was proved and validated, 3DPRINTUK had to look for partners to scale up production. In recent weeks, 3DPRINTUK has been directly involved with the UK Cabinet and manufacturers working on a number of large ventilator projects, which has taken up their own printing capacity. Information relating to the design was released, and the first facility to take on the manufacturing role was the Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) which had access to the P110 machine and also had laser cutting capabilities.
From the get-go, there was a great connection between the 3DPRINTUK and AUB teams, with AUB producing the initial batch of 5,000 units and more thereafter. These shields will be distributed for free to front line key workers.
The art 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, including doctors’ surgeries, care homes, and volunteers providing door-to-door services for the elderly.
“We’re delighted to be involved with this vital project”, said AUB Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Gough. “Many AUB staff members have been involved; from our cutting-edge technical teams to our Innovation and Campus Services teams. AUB is honoured to play a part in the national drive to create and distribute life-saving apparatus, it’s so important that we’re all able to play our part during this global pandemic. As a specialist university, – he continued – we firmly believe in the ways in which research and creativity can greatly improve productivity. In times like these, we’re challenged to rapidly innovate, and at such a crucial time, it’s hugely heartening to see those from across the creative industries maximising PPE production through design and collaboration.”
Anyone else with the SLS capacity to make the face shield is invited to get in touch with 3DPRINTUK for access to the optimized SLS face shield design data.