Coronavirus: University creates face shields for medical centres

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Personal protective equipment (PPE) is in high demand around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Victoria University academic has helped produce more than 700 face shields for medical centre staffers to use during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Associate Professor at the School of Design Innovation, Dr Edgar Rodriguez, received a phone call from his University of Auckland colleagues on the eve of the nationwide lockdown asking for his help.

They had created the shield’s design files, but wanted Rodriguez’s help to laser cut them for the Wellington region.

Victoria University School of Design Innovation associate professor Dr Edgar Rodriguez has helped produce face shields for use by local medical centres during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Victoria University School of Design Innovation associate professor Dr Edgar Rodriguez has helped produce face shields for use by local medical centres during the Covid-19 pandemic.

After sourcing the right type of clear plastic from arts supplier Gordon Harris, Rodriguez and Faculty of Architecture and Design’s Ken Howe spent much of alert level 4 producing this vital form of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We bought all the stock that they had, knowing that would give us enough plastic to make about 700 face shields.

“[Gordon Harris employees] stayed up late packing all of these materials for us, so just hours before lockdown started, we could have all the material to manufacture them,” Rodriguez explained.

A special type of plastic was sourced from local arts supplier Gordon Harris on the eve of the lockdown.
A special type of plastic was sourced from local arts supplier Gordon Harris on the eve of the lockdown.

Using laser cutting meant thousands of shields can be created “much faster and more hygienic than 3D printing.”

“There are some similar 3D-printed shields around, but unfortunately they need to be disposable as it’s unhygienic to reuse them as they would risk spreading the virus.

Lower Hutt company Uniplas, which usually produces food packaging, used injection moulding to make the plastic frame.
Lower Hutt company Uniplas, which usually produces food packaging, used injection moulding to make the plastic frame.

“Setting up mass production takes time, so our role at Victoria University was filling up that gap during lockdown, that we could go into our facilities because we were considered an essential service,” Rodriguez said.

The shield’s design is a simple plastic frame connected to a transparent plastic sheet, with both parts able to be safely disinfected and reused.

Rodriguez teamed up with Lower Hutt factory Uniplas to produce the plastic frame using a technique known as ‘injection moulding’ meaning as many as 10,000 frames can be made each day if necessary.

The shields have already been distributed to medical centres across the country, as far north as Kaitāia GP Dr Lance O’Sullivan through to various centres in the Greater Wellington region, ensuring local supply.

While Auckland University has produced around 25,000 face shields at a cost of $2 each, Rodriguez said Victoria University had donated their shields free of charge.

He said it was “awesome” to be able to make a product that was so helpful to others.

“When we went into lockdown, it was such an anxiety-inducing moment and my first reaction I said was ‘how can I help? What can I do?’

“This was partly to channel some of that anxiety I felt on a personal level, but partly because I had the skills to something, so when they got in touch, I was like ‘I’m totally in’.

“It was really satisfying to know I was helping,” he said.

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