“Engineering is integral to modern life,” says Caroline Spillane, director general of Engineers Ireland. “The challenges we face as a society will all require and benefit from engineering innovation.” These include the role Chartered Engineer of the Year Donal Kelly has played in delivering transport solutions in London, to the delivery of critical infrastructure, and most recently the role engineers have played in supporting communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has presented significant challenges for our economy and society, impacting the way we live, work, learn and interact,” Spillane adds. “In response, over these past eight months, engineers from across Ireland have come together to drive solutions through the delivery and development of medical supplies, including essential PPE, and other new innovations to support healthcare workers and the wider community. In association with ESB, we are pleased to recognise the contribution and response of Ireland’s engineers to the pandemic through our new 2020 Engineering Excellence Digital Series.”
In today’s Irish Times, the winners of the Contribution of Engineering to the Covid-19 response category – selected by a panel of judges following an open, free-to-enter competition – are recognised for their endeavour and innovation in developing solutions to benefit communities across Ireland and globally.
I-Form’s rapid response digital manufacturing hub
In March 2020, as Ireland went into lockdown, a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) was beginning to impact front-line workers in the Irish health service. In response researchers at I-Form, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Manufacturing, used their engineering expertise in additive manufacturing – also known as 3D printing – to provide essential PPE to front-line staff and to support other aspects of the health service.
Researchers used their engineering skills to develop a process flow that maximised throughput across the available bank of 3D printers
Under I-Form director Prof Denis Dowling at UCD and deputy director Prof Dermot Brabazon at DCU, the team – which is based across the seven third-level institutes of UCD, DCU, Trinity, WIT, NUIG, IT Sligo and NUI Maynooth – worked around the clock to 3D-print 5,000 face shields for doctors, nurses and care-home workers across Ireland. Researchers used their engineering skills to develop a process flow that maximised throughput across the available bank of 3D printers, while ensuring repeatable quality.
Face shields were distributed initially to local hospitals and then to hospitals farther afield, as well as to HSE Covid-19 testing centres, nursing homes, community healthcare facilities and GP practices. Face shields were also sent overseas to a mission hospital in Tanzania, and knowledge and expertise were shared with researchers in Namibia. A heavy-duty version of the visor, more suited to outdoor use, was also produced using laser cutting, with several hundred supplied to ambulance services personnel.
Alongside requests for face shields, the team also received calls from doctors and ICU staff concerned about the potential impact of Covid-19 on their supply chain for ventilation and respiratory equipment. Using their 3D-printing expertise, I-Form researchers addressed this clinical need and collaborated with hospitals in Cavan, Sligo and Galway to produce 3D-printed ventilator parts and alternative breathing devices for use in the event of a total supply chain collapse.
The Covid Alliance – How Ireland’s engineers rallied to the Covid emergency
The Covid Alliance, established in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus crisis, consists of more than 50 project partners from key Irish engineering and manufacturing sectors who came together to volunteer their services to the Health Service Executive.
This informal group of organisations, who provided services primarily on a pro-bono basis, was organised into a series of volunteer work streams, all of which were focused on meeting the needs of the crisis. With each project partner aligned to a work stream based on their specific capabilities, the alliance’s expertise was central to the development of a number of healthcare supports and initiatives. This included a review of medical gas infrastructure in more than 30 of the country’s acute hospitals, and subsequent capacity delivery projects, such as servicing the Citywest stepdown facility with medical gas infrastructure and upgrades to five hospitals to increase or de-bottleneck oxygen supplies and medical air systems.
With a diverse project team, the alliance has also enabled the servicing of temporary clinical facilities, including the design of temporary reception wards for county hospitals.
The alliance was also central to the scaling up of the reagent supply chain to address shortages that were impacting testing capabilities, commercialisation support of a rapid home-testing system and the design of locally produced goggles for medical personnel, for which an order for more than a million units is in process with the HSE.
I-Form’s Rapid Response Digital Manufacturing Hub and The Covid Alliance – How Ireland’s Engineers rallied to the Covid emergency are among six projects to be recognised by Engineers Ireland and ESB in a newly unveiled Engineering Excellence Digital Series.