The UJ Library Makerspace team at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) have joined efforts to curb the spread the COVID-19 pandemic by developing vital protective material. The Makerspace team begun using 3D printing and laser cutting equipment to produce surgical face shields in an effort to meet the rapidly growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. So far, 10 shields have been distributed to various campus clinics at the University, with another seven set to be delivered to Netcare911, according to UJ's Makerspace expert, Rudie Strauss. "Makerspaces are places where you can do prototyping and small-batch production very rapidly and inexpensively," explains Strauss.
This comes at a time when state suppliers are scrambling to secure essential equipment such as ventilators, masks, gloves, respirators and sanitisers from local and international manufacturers. The global demand for these materials has meant that there have been significant delays in delivery, sparking fears that deliveries might be too late to save some of the pandemic's victims.
The protective equipment is being distributed for free to healthcare professional. A piece of polyethylene sheeting is attached to the visor to act as a protective barrier between healthcare workers and patients. The polyethylene can be either sanitised between uses or replaced. At least 15 shields can be produced each day under at the UJ Makerspace lab, based in the Doornfontein campus (DFC). However, the team is working on designs solely involving laser cutting that could increase the rate of production to more than 50 per day.
"The equipment is in demand right now as we are being forced to come up with improvised solutions to address the lack of traditional equipment and devices. Also, this material that we are using is hard to find. The dead frames for the face shields are made by 3D printers and the shields are laser cut from sheets of old and thick transparencies," Strauss explained One of the unforeseen advantages of these face shields is that they are recycling old transparency sheets that would otherwise be adding to our plastic pollution.
The UJ Library Makerspace professionals teamed up with UJ's Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE), Health Sciences, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers South Africa Section as well as the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF), which offers 3D printing and other creative technologies.
Strauss said although the shields are not made to medical standards, they can be printed on demand for use when better alternatives are not yet available.