Nottingham University team produces 3D printed face shields for NHS

University of Nottingham engineers have designed and produced a fully approved PPE face shield for frontline healthcare workers engaged in the battle against Covid-19.

3D printed face shields
3D printed face shield worn by Stuart Smith, Consultant at Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham (© University of Nottingham)

The group, from the University’s centre for additive manufacturing, has already produced around 1000 of an initial production run of 5000 face shields and is in the process of delivering these to community healthcare workers in the Nottingham area. The team ultimately expects to produce around 10,000 units.

The shield, which builds on an open-source design of headband originally from HP, consists of a 3D printed headband, a laser cut PET visor (with anti-fog coating) and a laser-cut adjustable strap. The HP design was chosen by the Nottingham engineering team as it incorporates a cover at the top of the face shield which prevents fluid from entering the eyes from above – deemed critical by healthcare professionals. The equipment is provided in packs to the NHS, with five replacement visors per face shield as well as instructions for use.

The Nottingham team made a number of modifications to ensure the face shield could pass a regulatory test by BSI, the UK’s national standards body. These involved making the wrap-around visor element wider, as well as other alterations to improve comfort for users.

Professor Richard Hague, director of the centre for additive manufacturing, said that the device represents a significant improvement over some other face visors that have been produced in response to the crisis which typically use an A4 visor, and therefore don’t provide the right level of protection.

“We took more of an engineering approach,” he told The Engineer,  “we stood back and thought: what is the right thing to do here? Do we just make stuff and hand it over and hope that it’s used. Or do we make stuff properly and get it CE marked so that people want to use it and are safe using it?”

3D printed face shields
Consultants at QMC,(L-R) Surajit Basu and Stuart Smith, wear 3D printed face shields manufactured by University of Nottingham (© University of Nottingham)

As well as using their own EOS Laser Sintering equipment, the University of Nottingham’s engineering team have been heavily supported by Matsuura UK to produce the 3D printed element, using their HP MultiJet Fusion process. The visor element has been made with the help of local firm, Prime Group, and Nottingham Trent University are now ramping up for production of the laser-cut strap.

Hailing the spirit of collaboration that has helped get the equipment onto the frontline in such a short timeframe Hague said:  “We have also had incredible support from our collaborators in getting these face shields to the NHS – the teamwork and willingness of people to help has been truly heart-warming and we are all extremely proud to be able to contribute to the nation’s fight against coronavirus.”

Interview: Professor Richard Hague

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Reflecting on the challenges of rapidly shifting from academic research to joining the engineering fightback against Covid-19, Hague said: “I never thought five weeks ago that I’d be an actual manufacturer and supplying stuff. But we’ve gone through the design, regulations, prototyping, supply chain, procurement, we’ve gone through everything, and delivered them. It’s probably a very healthy thing for a professor in manufacturing to do, actually get a product to market.”

Commenting on the group’s efforts Dr James Hopkinson, Local GP and Joint Clinical Chair of NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire CCG, said: “We are extremely grateful to the University of Nottingham for developing and supplying the visors which will make a real difference to thousands of healthcare staff working on the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Packs of the face shields have already been delivered to local GP practices, and we have plans in place to share them with a range of other keyworkers such as people who care for others at home."

The team has made the design and its accompanying documents ‘open-source’ to enable other manufacturers to produce the face shields – however, manufacturers will need to submit their product for testing to the BSI to obtain their own CE certification.