In previous articles on GovDesignHub we’ve highlighted the military’s use of 3D printing to make portable runways, repair aircrafts, and maintain vehicles. We have often shared the possibilities that advanced manufacturing presents to our government agencies, however, it’s rare that we see these advances make progress in short timeframes. Typically, there are months of design and testing before we begin to see benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic gave a pressing backdrop to pilot 3D printing for personal protective equipment (PPE) in real-time and at scale.
In the ultimate example of crisis creating opportunities, everyone from hobbyist 3D printers, to large manufacturing companies began designing and producing PPE to fill skyrocketing healthcare and personal needs for protective devices. With shortages of masks, surgical gowns, safety glasses, and face shields widespread, the industry needed to discover ways to shorten production times and increase output quickly.
One of the innovative individuals that answered the call to action was Elizabeth Bishop, a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Warwick in the UK, who found herself working from home and needing to design and test PPE face shields with limited resources, space, and time.
Unfortunately, the 3D printers that can mass-produce designs efficiently and cost-effectively often don’t fit in the home environment. Using Fusion 360, and some creative mock-up techniques, Bishop was able to create several iterations of face shields – eventually dropping the printing times (which normally could take hours) to 10 minutes, before shaving it down further to a scant 3.5 minutes.
According to Bishop, similar innovation was occurring around the globe, “They came up with their own facial design. And the way this works with hobbyists, people at home, individuals with 3D printers – all could print these designs and send them off to be distributed across the communities on a quite local level.” Advanced manufacturing and 3D printing stepped up to help offset some of the supply gap and delivered.
Despite early successes in designing and printing PPE, challenges abounded. Bishop shared, “I was stuck at home. I didn’t really have anything suitable to print any of the community designs that were out there. So, I started thinking about what I could do. And I came up with this design in Fusion 360…And this gave me my first prototype design for a face shield.”
After creating a physical prototype initially with a piece of paper, Bishop was able to take her design digital and create multiple iterations considering supplies, variances in printer designs, and allowing for improvements in design. She tested different methods for testing straps, for alternative assembly, and for efficiency in production. When all was done, Bishop had a design and production operation capable of meeting the PPE needs of her local community.
“Since the start of April, I set up this production line and have been distributing free of charge to the community, the front line, and the University staff and students,” Bishop explained. “…I have distributed 7,660 face shields, of which I am very proud to have done my part.”
The benefits of her hard work will ultimately extend well beyond those thousands who received the PPE. Her design has now been approved to be manufactured and distributed widely within the UK.
The creativity of advanced manufacturing designers and engineers is something deserving of recognition. The rapid pace at which their efforts, the advantages of 3D printing, and technology tools like Autodesk’s Fusion 360 have all played a part in helping our society respond to this pandemic. Progress via advanced manufacturing techniques has happened right before our eyes.