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Posted 13.04.20

Fab Lab Plymouth turn on printers to protect frontline staff during coronavirus outbreak

By Naomi Girdler
As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) global pandemic evolves, the vital role of the creative industries has never been more apparent. In response to the outbreak, Plymouth College of Art’s Fab Lab Plymouth has been putting its state-of-the-art 3D printers to good use by printing components for personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used by NHS staff across the city.

Dr Oliver Tills, Teaching and Research Associate at University of Plymouth, contacted Fab Lab Plymouth Manager Ben Mundy about how the college could contribute to the manufacture of components for facial visors, collaborating with University of Plymouth, Babcock, Plymouth Science Park, the Royal Navy and other independent printing enthusiasts.

The face shield design, in use by medical practitioners around the world, was designed by Prusa3D, a 3D printing company based in the Czech Republic. In reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, the company developed an open-source face shield design, approved by medical boards worldwide, allowing companies, institutions, and independent specialists to contribute to the shortage of PPE by downloading and printing the parts themselves.

Using PTEG, a widely used recyclable type of plastic most often found in water bottles, our team at the Fab Lab Plymouth have produced parts for a plastic headband visor that sits on the forehead of the user. This vital component is fabricated using  four 3D printers in the lab, allowing our technicians to create up to 100 parts per week, ready to be disinfected, processed and assembled by staff at Babcock.

"This [project] is a great example of how working together can inspire creative and innovative solutions.”
- Ben Mundy, Fab Lab Plymouth Manager

Principal Technician Ian Hankey, along with Technical Demonstrators Ben Wheeler and Owen Groombridge have been adhering to government guidelines on social distancing by working in the lab on a rotating basis to create the components. Fab Lab Plymouth has received a deep clean since its initial closure to the public and is being cleaned and maintained during production in order to uphold staff safety.

Fab Lab Plymouth Manager Ben Mundy said: “When we were approached regarding the project, we knew the Fab Lab was perfectly positioned to get involved. Thanks to open-source designs, we’re able to put our facilities to good use while Plymouth College of Art is closed and contribute to the shortage of PPE available to our vital frontline medical key workers. Utilizing our four 3D printers, we’ve been able to accommodate the production of components for medically approved facial visors. This is a great example of how working together can inspire creative and innovative solutions.”

Fab Lab Plymouth is one of over 1000 Fab Labs across the world encouraging innovation and research through material exploration. Cutting-edge 2D and 3D design software and machinery, including the 3D printers being used in this project, are housed within the various labs of Plymouth College of Art, creating a perfect setting to work across traditional making and cutting-edge digital technology.

Students, staff and members of the public can look forward to the reopening of the Fab Lab Plymouth, where the Smart Citizens Programme, as part of the iMayflower project, will be delivering activities until March 2022. The programme offers workshops, community group meet-ups and training accreditation in digital design and fabrication, focussing on various themes such as agri-food, conservation and environment, art and creativity, experimental manufacturing, FabCity, urban innovations and more.

Visor parts ready for assembly

For more information on the college’s response to COVID-19 (coronavirus) please visit our guidance pages or contact editor@pca.ac.uk

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