An advanced manufacturing research facility based in University College Dublin (UCD) has designed a face shield for medical staff working on the Covid-19 frontline in the space of a week, and is already scaling up production.
Using its expertise in 3D printing, known as additive manufacturing, I-Form is aiming to provide much-needed PPE (personal protective equipment) to healthcare staff in Dublin.
Its researchers have been focused on meeting that need since last Friday, starting with the 3D printing of a face shield prototype, which has now gone into production.
The I-Form team, along with engineering colleagues at UCD, were responding to a direct request for this particular item of PPE from Tallaght University Hospital (TUH).
They spent all weekend in their lab – taking it in shifts to ensure physical distancing – and "by Sunday night we had produced 300 face shields for TUH", said postdoctoral research Dr Andrew Dickson.
“We took existing designs and optimised them to produce one part every 17 minutes. We are continuing this work and, as of today (Thursday), we have produced and donated 600 face shields to frontline staff across Dublin,” he added.
Prof Denis Dowling, the director of I-Form, a Science Foundation Ireland research centre, said additive manufacturing was a highly adaptable technology that can be quickly harnessed to meet an immediate need.
I-Form is also donating face shields to other hospitals in Dublin and to HSE coronavirus testing centres around the greater Dublin area. Discussions are also underway with two nursing homes to provide the equipment, Prof Dowling said.
Other areas under investigation by its researchers include the production of protective goggles and ventilator-related technological aids.
Many Irish third-level institutions have been responding to a call-out for assistance in the national effort to counter coronavirus.
CALT Dynamics, based in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, and founded by UCD research engineers Ross Lawless, Colin Keogh and Irene Villafane, has developed a prototype protective visor that can be produced rapidly, again using 3D printing.
The company has already donated prototypes to a Dublin hospital for testing and validation and is sharing its design with companies in the US and Spain with a view to it being produced in multiple locations.
Impact Gumshields in Sandyford, Co Dublin, set up by former Leinster rugby player Gary Brown, is redeploying its 3D printers to produce hands-free door handles for distribution to GP surgeries, pharmacies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers.