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Volunteers across country help medical staff brave COVID-19 with 3D-printed face shields

In a pro bono effort, a group of volunteers across India has come together to make face shields, free of cost, for doctors and medical support staff of government hospitals.

Written by Shiny Varghese |
April 14, 2020 8:57:00 pm
coronavirus face shields, coronavirus masks, masks for covid 19, covid 19, coronavirus news, latest news, indian express It all began last month when a doctor in north Karnataka spotlighted 3D-printed PPEs. (Express photo/Jaipal Singh)

3D printers were never more useful than they are now, as the world comes together to battle Covid-19. In the US and Europe, these have been used to make protective equipment for doctors, police and support staff. Back home, India is also grappling with a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). To tackle this, a group of volunteers spread across the country, has come together to make face shields, free of cost, for doctors and medical support staff of government hospitals.

This group — comprising engineers, designers, makers, hobbyists and corporate seniors — has evolved a design and distribution network that allows them to reach out to healthcare workers across the country.

Using a thermoplastic made of sustainable material like corn starch, they have developed visor bands that a person can place on their forehead, with a spring action to ensure it fits the head perfectly. The 200-micron transparent OHP sheet ensures their eyes, nose, mouth and neck are covered.

It all began last month when a doctor in north Karnataka spotlighted 3D-printed PPEs. His sister informed Ravi Koulagi, global director in a leading MNC, on how they are making those PPEs locally in North Carolina (US) and that if the same could be replicated in India, it would be a huge help. Koulagi reached out to his friends, and Sujata Singhal picked up the trail and posted the information on her contact groups. Soon, designers from Delhi/ NCR – Vinay Sharma, Director, Ice Boy, which makes automatic ice cubes, Amit Gulati, who heads studio inCubis, and Vivek Yadav – offered their 3D printers to develop the design.

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Sharma was already making visor frames from an open source code he got from designer Erik Cederberg of Swedish company, 3DVerkstan. “When Sujata reached out to me, I reworked some of the designs and we sent it to a few doctors. Their positive feedback encouraged us to go forward,” says Sharma. He finally chose a design that would be easy to print, was lightweight and easy to sanitise. While the Swedish company has an eight-hole design, Sharma was able to customise it to four nodes, reducing the time taken manually to punch and fit the transparent sheets.

While they are not the only ones in India printing 3D visor bands, their collective pro bono work for government hospitals is unique. “We could not have achieved anything without help from authorities in Haryana, who were instrumental in helping us take this forward – Rajiv Arora, Additional Chief Secretary, Haryana Health Department; Tanmay Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Power, Government of India; and Vinay Singh, Commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Gurugram. We got permissions overnight to open warehouses and get the raw material. Ever since, we have shipped more than 1000 visor bands and 2,500 face shields to nearly 18 hospitals in Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Srinagar, Bhopal, Mysore, Bangalore and Jaipur,” says Singhal, who has helmed this project, coordinating its logistics and distribution.

While Sharma manages to print about 100 visor bands a day, with four printers at home, Gulati with his colleague, Varun Manocha, gets about 20 done with one printer, and Yadav does about the same numbers. “A crisis is a great way to unpack your mind. A 3D printer doesn’t need to be sitting in someone’s lab but can actually be in your own home. We didn’t realise that as a studio, we had the capacity to deliver in such a short deadline. The lockdown was on Sunday, on Monday we got a call from Sujata, and by Tuesday, we had our tiny 3D printer running. Usually, design processes take time, but here, we had to think on our feet,” says Gulati.

Ultimately, what we want is for many more people to come on board and make the design and distribute it locally, so that it can be sustainable. Currently, the cost for each shield is under Rs 50, but often shipping raw materials alone can prove to be very expensive. It is a very simple programme that can easily be done at home, if you have a 3D printer. The need of the hour is to scale up and get as many people to make this quickly and efficiently, so that we can meet the rising demand,” says Bengaluru-based Koulagi, who heads distribution in south India.

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First published on: 14-04-2020 at 08:57:00 pm

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