The Appleton Tower face shield factory

[2020] ​​​​​​​Informatics technicians have been 3D printing over 100 face shields a day since the end of March in an attempt to help the NHS and Care Homes with an increasing shortage of personal protective equipment.

Face shield printed on a 3D printer

They have been approved by the University as essential workers and currently work 7 days per week in 3 teams of 2 at a minimum, on a rota designed by Informatics Technical Services Manager, to ensure social distancing and hygiene guidelines. All technicians currently working volunteered for this task.

Supporting a good cause during the pandemic

When the University campuses became locked down at the end of March, the technicians found themselves with quite a lot of time on their hands. Soon, Garry Ellard became aware of the opportunities to help frontline workers out through 3D printed items. Simultaneously other groupings at the University or connected to it came up with the same idea and got in touch with the School.

Professor Jane Hillston, Head of School of Informatics, agreed to contribute some initial funding towards this project as a worthwhile cause. Within days the workshop in Appleton Tower became one of the PPE-producing factories popping up around Edinburgh manned by Informatics Technicians: Garry Ellard, Douglas Howie, Gilbert Inkster, Colin Wilson, Tom Whigham and David Hamilton.

"The School is very pleased to be one of the contributors to the initiatives within the University to provide PPE to frontline workers in the NHS and care homes.  Whilst we can, we will continue to donate the raw materials and use of our 3D printers.  We are very proud and grateful to Dave Hamilton and the team of technicians who so readily volunteered and have driven this project forward with impressive results.”

Professor Jane Hillston
Head of School

Community spirit in action

Face shield printed on a 3D printer

Multiple designs for face shields are freely available online, several by known manufacturers (Prusa, McLaren F1, 3DVerkstan). Informatics technicians are currently printing a variation the 3DVerkstan face visor design with some modifications made by the techs in-house and by a group working on 3D printed PPE in the Edinburgh Hacklab, led by Marcin Morawski. The Hacklab group was one of the first ones to start the production and was put in touch with Informatics techs by William Waites, Research Assistant working with Kenneth Heafield in the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation. Hacklab’s initiative expanded since and became Edinburgh Shield Force that has delivered 15 thousand kits to date. The Informatics community supported the Hacklab’s production early on, when Perdita Stevens donated her own A4 acetate transparencies to the call issued by William to one of Informatics social mailing lists.

Face shields specs

The material techs are using is PLA, which is not ideal as it is not impervious to moisture and therefore is single

Face shield printed on a 3D printer

use only. It is, however, biodegradable as it is made from plant extract. They will be moving to PETg which can be re-used. It is also recyclable just like a normal plastic household waste. Technicians are bearing in mind that UK stocks of 3D printing filament might struggle, in which case the little Appleton Tower factory could face grinding to a halt.

In the meantime, Carol Marini, Informatics facilities supervisor has been organising suppliers and access for deliveries for the technicians, while working from home.

From Appleton Tower to the Royal Infirmary

Face shield printed on a 3D printer

Ready kits are collected by Marcin Morawski from the Hacklab usually once a week. To date about 1500 units have been shipped from the factory in Informatics. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary are currently the main recipient. The kits end up in the specialist Covid-19 ICU ward, the ward where serious but non-ICU patients are treated, as well as radiology and surgery theatres, where the likelihood of coming into contact with infected individuals is high.

Other initiatives around the University

Other departments around the University or connected to it are also involved in producing face shields.

Augmented Bionics, a company set up by the School of Chemistry alumnus, Elisabeth Feldstein to 3D print prosthetic limbs, are printing 10,000 face shields per week. They were originally alerted to the need by a GP they worked with when setting up the company.

In the meantime, the School of Engineering has donated over 1200 face shields made with a new laser-cutting technique. The technique allows the face shields to be made more quickly - it takes around 70 seconds to produce one.

Related links

Edinburgh Hacklab

Edinburgh Shield Force