Surrey manufactures vital PPE for frontline NHS and care home workers
Steve Bower, the Technical Manager of the University of Surrey’s Mechanical Engineering Workshop, tells us how the University is supplying around 9,000 items of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fight against Covid-19.
Steve originally trained as an apprentice tool maker and worked in an injection moulding shop before coming to Surrey. Even after the University closed and started virtual teaching instead, Steve and his team wanted to do more.
“When the severity of the pandemic became clear, everyone in the workshop saw it as our civic duty to support our NHS and key care workers,” says Steve.
"When the severity of the pandemic became clear, everyone in the workshop saw it as our civic duty to support our NHS and key care workers,” says Steve.
“Covid Assist, the national body coordinating support efforts in the fight against the disease, got in touch and asked if we could help. We looked at the types of items they wanted and we decided to manufacture face visors. We used a design from Italy that their health service employed at the peak of their Covid-19 infection.”
This type of visor provides a high level of protection by covering the entire face. Steve and his team are now creating a modular version of this visor, where the frame can be reused and the shield component easily replaced. The frame is made out of polylactic acid (PLA), which is a plastic widely used in 3D printing. It’s also biodegradable. The shield is made from acetate.
“We have a large workshop and, in term time, there can up to 11 staff and 50 students inside,” adds Steve. “Because of social distancing, we’re limiting the number of technicians working on this project to four at any one time. We can only use certain machines to make these items because we have a limited number that are up to the job, so more people wouldn't mean an increase in productivity.
“The visor frames are mostly 3D printed and a small number are laser cut. The 3D-printed parts take approximately 40 minutes to print, and we produce about 12 an hour on eight machines. The laser-cut parts take a few minutes to cut, but the cleaning of the machine afterwards makes it a less attractive method of production, so we just use the laser to supplement to the majority of the 3D printed units.
"On a typical day, we'll produce about 120 frames. The shields take seconds to produce. In one day, we produced 2000 shields.
“Some of our visors have gone to the Royal Surrey County Hospital and quite a lot of them have gone to local care homes, which are drastically short of PPE. By the time we've finished, we'll have created about 3000 frames and 6000 shields."
One thing that concerns Steve is a drop in the amount of goods made here in the UK.
“I’ve seen a decline in UK manufacturing over the last 30-40 years,” he says. “As a country, we’ve diminished our capacity to make and relied on importing cheap goods.
“We’re just glad we can do our bit to help out in a time of national crisis.”
And Steve and his team's "bit" now brings the total number of PPE items the University has supplied in the fight against Covid-19 to an impressive 120,000.
At Surrey, we’re teaching and inspiring the next generation of engineers who can bring ideas to reality in a more sustainable way. Clever solutions and the ability to bring great minds together, allows us to support our community during this pandemic. Find out more about how Surrey is helping in the fight against Covid-19.