Teams at the University of the Witwatersrand’s (Wits’) Digital Incubator at the Tshimologong Precinct, the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering (MIA) along with the Transnet Centre of Systems Engineering (TCSE) and the Transnet Matlafatšo Centre (TMC), have come together to assist with Netcare 911’s call to assist with printing head rings for face shields used by medical staff treating patients with Covid-19.
Recognising that each head ring for the face shields would take about 90 minutes to produce and with limited three-dimensional (3D) printing capacity, a team – made up of Guy Richards, Letlotlo Phohole, Moses Mogotlane, Palesa Riba and Randall Paton – has decided on a laser cut solution that saves time.
According to Phohole, TCSE and TMC acting director, the team was not happy with the limitations that standard 3D printing would bring, and wanted to “use what is readily available”, as well as light-weight and cheap to make, while also producing a complete product.
After numerous attempts on March 30 to cut the shield from downloaded files, the Wits team redesigned the original designs and applied rapid prototyping processes, which they then cut using their laser cutter.
The face shields, which are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheeting, are a flat pack consisting of two pieces that can be rapidly assembled.
“The school had stock of the PVC sheeting from another earlier project. The shields are therefore being provided at no cost to the hospitals,” Paton says, highlighting that “adhering to best safety practices is crucial in the production of these face shields”.
Post-production, the face shields are washed, rinsed and dried to remove any potentially harmful residue from the laser cutting. This is done in a production line fashion and is now the tightest bottleneck in the project, given that the team only has one working laser cutter.
With an average production time of three minutes, including setup time, to cut a set of pieces for each face shield, the team expects to produce between 200 and 500 shields a day to help meet the growing demand for protective gear for medical staff.
Within the four days since the call from Netcare 911, the Wits team had produced 140 face shields and distributed 120 to the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre and another 20 to the Wits Protection Services staff.
An additional 300 face shields have been produced to date, of which 200 will be donated to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and 100 to the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital.
The Wits engineers hope to also distribute face shields to the Helen Joseph and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals, which are also Wits teaching hospitals.
MIA head Professor Robert Reid hailed the team for their contribution to society saying that they are upholding one of the five core values of the School, botho (humanity).
The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment plans to develop other medical equipment, including respirators, devices to prevent people from touching their faces, and medical masks (with filters made out of vacuum cleaner bags and make-up cotton pads designed by students of their own volition).
These cross-disciplinary projects will involve people from different faculties at Wits and other stakeholder groups.
Over R100 000 has been raised for this initiative from 68 donors.