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University producing protective face-shields for medics on frontline fight against COVID-19

University of Sunderland-designed protective face shields are being used by frontline healthcare workers in North East hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak.

Experts from the University’s Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice (AMAP) designed their own visor from scratch with input from regional intensive care unit clinicians.

The protective shields were evaluated and trialled by medical experts, before the go-ahead was given to produce and supply visors for frontline workers at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).

Over the Easter holiday weekend the team supplied more than 200 visors, and continues to 3D-print and assemble the safety equipment, following strict sterilisation procedures for ICU requirements.

Roger O’Brien, Director at AMAP, said: “We had a rota of staff working at the University's Industry Centre from 7am until midnight over Easter weekend to produce and assemble the visors to meet the demand.

“In addition to our own efforts, where we have 12 printers running around the clock, there are various manufacturing partners of all sizes of organisation, from small companies to large, who are helping us by 3D-printing our frame design, which we then collect from them to process.

“AMAP then quality controls what is produced, sterilises it and then assembles the finished product, adding the visors, forehead protection and retaining straps, all of which have also been sterilised via our processes agreed with the clinicians.

“These are then packed into sterile packaging for delivery, so they can be used immediately upon receipt.”

As well as use in hospitals, demand for the protective equipment has also come from North East GP surgeries, prisons and care homes, while charity Age UK have also been in touch to request supplies

Roger said: “We are currently working with a local manufacturing company to invest in an injection mould tool which would scale up the operation from producing around 100 face shields per day to many thousands, and hopefully this can be in production very soon. This tooling will be supported as well by grant funding from our SAM(Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing) project with the SME involved.”

The production of the equipment has also been supported by companies attached to the University’s SAM project, including Pilgrim Gin which supplied a large quantity of denaturalised alcohol used for part of the sterilisation process.