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The University of Southampton

University team’s urgent response turns 3D printing know-how into vital PPE

Published: 9 April 2020
Face shield worn by hospital staff
Southampton engineering students and graduates are 3D printing face shields for NHS staff.

The pressing need for personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff in the NHS and other organisations working in the frontline fight against COVID-19 has prompted an urgent solution by a group of engineering students and graduates from the University of Southampton.

Knowing that a significant proportion of the PPE can be rapidly manufactured by 3D printing - a skill that lies at the heart of the engineering courses at the University – the group is now using this technology to print, assemble and distribute full facial shields with the help of generous donations from the public.

So far, the team has successfully manufactured 200 face shields for use by local NHS staff, with a goal of producing 1,000 as soon as possible.

The project is led by Aerospace Engineering student Fergus McKenzie-Wilson who is also Chief Technology Officer of the drone company ‘Hydra’. Hydra initiated the project when Dr Hannah Harring, a GP in Winchester, asked Fergus to help to provide 10 face shields for her practice through her husband, who is an investor in Hydra.

Fergus surpassed this amount, producing 50 units and, using his unique position, was able to secure investment, resources, enable distribution and recruit an army of volunteers to take the project to the next level.

Thanks to the generosity of the general public who have donated via crowdfunding online and spreading the word, through social media as well as invaluable support from Hydra’s investors, the group hit their initial £3,000 funding target in little more than 6 hours. As each unit costs £3, the team is now over halfway to their new target of £12,000 and have already started production of the 1,000 face shields they plan to produce over the coming days.

The team has set up a GoFundMe page with all donations going directly towards the cost of producing the face shields. “We are also still looking to obtain even more 3D printers in order to increase our throughput, and would be grateful for any donations in the form of 3D printing hardware,” Fergus added.

“Seeing the success of the face shields in use in local NHS facilities such as the Winchester ICU, and the emphatic response to our campaign on social media, we’ve decided to scale up our operation and take our plans for production into the thousands,” Fergus enthused.

“This is a time in which uncertainty is at an unprecedented level, but we can take comfort in the certainty that we can work together with industry, the health service and the general public to collectively solve the great challenges facing us,” he continued. “The NHS is in dire need of PPE to support those tirelessly putting their lives on the line in the fight against the coronavirus. As the general public, we are infinitely grateful to the NHS staff and owe them a great debt.

Fergus credits the dedication of his team, which includes students on the University’s Ship Science programme as well as Aerospace, who are working long hours to achieve their goals. The international team, which comprised of students and graduates from the UK, Austria and Norway, includes Charles Bickel, Henrique Araujo, Mathias Høgden, Jamie Hawkins-Dady, Miro Šoška, Kynan Feltcher, Chris McLennan, Sam Topping, Mulham Terkaoui, James Saletes, Laura Nelson and Richard Abrams.

“Increasing our production has required the team to constantly monitor and carry out necessary maintenance on the printers, which sometimes involves waking up in the middle of the night,” he explained.

“We are immensely grateful for the equipment supplied by the University of Southampton, and generosity of companies such as Motion Robotics, who have been kind enough to loan us a large supply of 3D printers,” said Fergus. “Their support has been vital to the campaign’s success, in light of which we are continuing to raise our fundraising target even higher to continue maximising this operation.”

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The University of Southampton group is using 3D printing technology to print, assemble and distribute full facial shields with the help of generous donations from the public.
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The Southampton group has a goal of producing 1,000 face shields for NHS staff battling COVID-19.
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