Crisis response leads to commercialisation of PPE visor

A manufacturing collective has proven that strength in numbers can be vital when using innovation to help the UK’s fight against Covid-19.

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Image: Barkley Plastics

The demand for PPE during COVID-19 saw the Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN) rally to meet the requirement and then take their product forward to commercialisation.

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The Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN), a group of eight sub-contract manufacturers and a specialist engineering design agency, was eager to help the country’s Covid-19 fight and, after a number of virtual meetings, it was agreed that the collective would pool its disciplines and over £50,000 of resource to develop the manKIND recyclable visor.

There was no point coming up with a variant of what was already out there, so they came up with a product that is lightweight, easy to assemble with a push clip feature, suitable for repeated use, can be easily cleaned (the headband can even be put in a dishwasher) and includes a full peak for better protection.

A project team was assembled, with Grove Design leading on the design and prototyping work, Barkley Plastics on mould tool development and Brandauer supporting the assembly and fulfilment.

“We were anxious that the design should be both reusable and recyclable whilst being ready to comply with certification requirements,” explained Austin Owens, founder of Pembridge-based Grove Design.

“CAD tools, and associated CAE, were used to design the headband with an integral sprung section and adjustable strap with dimensions conforming to the required standards.

“This meant we removed the need for additional elastic straps that make cleaning more difficult and recycling more challenging. The peak, headband and adjustment had to be in a single – one material – recyclable moulding.”

He continued: “Much of the initial design was done within an extended online design session with engineers concurrently working on the CAD model and contributing concept ideas and live analysis.

“The CAD data was then used as the definition for making the tooling and moulding the part, with several 3D printed iterations helping us fuel the conversation and get initial approval from NHS and frontline staff.”

Central to the success of the manKIND visor was the development of the mould tool and this challenge was taken up by Birmingham-based Barkley Plastics.

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Visor production at Barkley Plastics (Image: Barkley Plastics)

The ‘internal brief’ dictated that the tooling should be ‘open and shut’ to keep it simple and quicker to fabricate. However, this meant that the strap was more difficult to eject, so small undercuts were deliberately added to consistently hold the moulding in one half of the tool prior to ejection.

Five toolmakers, including a young engineer who had just completed his apprenticeship, were brought safely back from furlough in the first lockdown to work on the project and it took them just three weeks to come up with a final tool that will last for millions of parts and, at capacity, can produce between 8,000 and 12,000 units per week.

Matt Harwood, Business Development Manager at Barkley Plastics, went on to add: “This is a fantastic effort by the MAN Group and shows what can be achieved in a short timeframe when manufacturers innovate by pooling resources and expertise. The tool ran on the press 24 hours a day for 8 days to deliver the first 20,000 to frontline workers and this hopefully helped prevent the spread of Covid-19 and protect lives.

“The way our visor has been designed makes wearing them for longer periods easier and, we know from feedback received from medical professionals, this has been a very welcome feature.”

Once it met its initial commitment to donations, MAN Group decided to commercialise the manKIND visor by reaching out to healthcare, education, the charity sector and industry.

This has seen a further 30,000 units sold over the last six months, primarily through www.mankindvisor.co.uk and Brandauer’s eBay shop.

“From just £1.87 per visor depending on minimum order quantity, it offers a high quality, comfortable and cost-effective option to protect frontline staff – better still the way it has been designed means we can package and distribute it in an A4 envelope,” pointed out Rowan Crozier, CEO of Brandauer.

“We’ve had some big news recently, with the product securing CE certification, which means the visor has been independently clinically tested and approved. It is now eligible to be part of the Medilink Midlands ‘Big Ask’ campaign to use West Midlands firms to meet national PPE shortages.”

He concluded: “Innovation is such a big part of UK manufacturing and there aren’t many countries who do it better than us when we collaborate knowledge and capabilities. What started as a social project is now a commercial opportunity for the Group, a blueprint we are definitely going to use in the future.”