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University’s 3D-printed surgical face shields help medical staff

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 03 Apr 2020
Fifteen 3D surgical face shields will be delivered to Netcare911.
Fifteen 3D surgical face shields will be delivered to Netcare911.

The University of Johannesburg’s (UJ’s) Library Makerspace division is developing 3D-printed surgical face shields, in an effort to meet the rapidly growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.

This comes at a time when state suppliers are scrambling to secure essential equipment such as ventilators, masks, gloves, respirators and sanitisers from local and international manufacturers.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic tightens its grip on nations across the globe, the infection rate has soared to over one million cases, with recoveries at more than 218 000, with deaths at over 54 000, at the time of publication. SA had recorded 1 462 coronavirus and five deaths by this morning.

In efforts to help curb the spread of the virus, the Makerspace says it begun using 3D printing to producevital protective material in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

So far, 10 shields have been distributed to various campus clinics at the university, with another 15 set to be delivered to Netcare911.

“Makerspaces are places where you can do prototyping and small-batch production very rapidly and inexpensively,” notes UJ’s Makerspace expert, Rudie Strauss.

“The equipment is in demand right now as we are being forced to come up with improvised solutions to address the lack of traditional equipment and devices.”

The UJ Library Makerspace laboratory, filled with 3D printing and scanning facilities, robots and smart computer technologies, was launched in 2017.

It is a physical infrastructure with tools such as AstroPrint or OctoPrint, used by creative engineering, technology, science and craft students at UJ.

On the surgical face shields project, the UJ Library Makerspace professionals have teamed up with UJ’s Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Health Sciences, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers South Africa Section, as well as the National Science and Technology Forum, which offers 3D printing and other creative technologies.

“The dead frames for the face shields are made by 3D printers and the shields are laser-cut from sheets of old and thick transparencies – material that is hard to find,” notes Strauss.

“One of the unforeseen advantages of these face shields is that they are recycling old transparency sheets that would otherwise be adding to our plastic pollution.”

The severe shortage of gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns and aprons has left doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients.

SA’s largest public sector union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers, says it is taking health minister Zweli Mkhize to court to force his department to comply with the occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993, and provide PPE for all health workers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of PPE – caused by rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse – is putting lives at risk from the new coronavirus and other infectious diseases.

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” says WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first.”