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UEA delivers 5,500 face visors to Norfolk hospitals

As the need to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS workers intensifies in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the University of East Anglia (UEA) has led a project involving a team of local businesses and individuals by creating face shields for the county’s health trusts.

20 organisations in the region have come together to supply the University with the materials and labour to produce parts to assemble 5,500 of the face shields already (latest figure updated on Wed 29 April), which have been delivered to Norfolk’s three major hospitals: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), James Paget Hospital (JPH) in Great Yarmouth and Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King’s Lynn.

Over the past few weeks, businesses and individuals have delivered 3D printed parts, clear plastic and elasticated bands for UEA to assemble the visors in the laboratories in their New Science Building. UEA aims to distribute around 200 of the finished products every day to NNUH, who then in turn deliver them to JPH and QEH.

The collaboration comes after Dr Aram Saeed and Professor Ben Garrod at UEA put a call out to tech providers and the local community for assistance with providing access to 3D printers and sharing software skills in March.

The School of Pharmacy assembled a broader team to deliver the project including Dr Sheng Qi, Dr Mahmoud Abdelhamid and Paul Disdle, with Research and Innovation Relationship Managers, including Paul Tabern, Chris Blincoe and Safiya Waley and led by Head of Business Partnerships, Julie Schofield. Eight science technicians comprise the volunteer assembly team and the UEA security team co-ordinated delivery and access to the building during lockdown.

With the quality of some PPE being shared nationally also coming under question, UEA has also taken the critical step of implementing a quality control procedure to ensure all visors meet the NHS-approved PRUSA and 3DVerkstan designs. The team are also following 72-hour quarantine periods for the raw materials and visors throughout the assembly process.

The visors consist of three main types of material:

  • 3D printed face shield parts, created using filament
  • Clear plastic, e.g. PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-modified); PVC and acetate
  • Buttonhole elasticated bands

The external organisations who have helped provide vital support for the project have ranged from prominent businesses in the region, local branches of major national and international companies, and small independent businesses in the county.

The full list is: Altair Astro UK; Birds of Dereham; Bosch (Suffolk); CF Tech; Copyshop (Great Yarmouth); Haas; Hexatomic; John Mayes Engineering Ltd; Knit Wit; Littlewood Lodge; Norwich Research Park; Norwich Print Solutions; Norwich University of the Arts; Notre Dame High School; Paper Story; Perdix Design Ltd; Pixel Spark; S-Can; SyncNorwich; Waitrose (Eaton); Yare Valley Technical Services.

In addition to this, a number of individual volunteers from the 3D printing community have also come forward to offer support, thanks to efforts from SyncNorwich.

Dr Mahmoud Abdelhamid, Lecturer in Chemical Biology at UEA, has played a key role in the project by organising and taking part in the printing, assembly, and distribution of the visors.

Dr Abdelhamid said: “This has truly been a collaborative effort and I’d like to thank every single one of the organisations that have assisted us in this project, as well as the UEA staff responsible for assembling the face shields. Without any one of you we simply would not have been able to have produced these shields in the quantities we have managed so far.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to assist our colleagues in the NHS during this difficult time and, with the continued help of local organisations, we’re hoping to produce plenty more. However, the supply of materials at our disposal is not exhaustive so if you are able to help us with this in any way then please get in touch.”

Fiona Lettice, Pro Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation at UEA said: “We really appreciate the initial support we had from SyncNorwich to help build a brilliant network of 3D printers, and we had over 700 responses to our initial call for help, from businesses and individuals.

“Since then, the team have worked incredibly well – from our academics to our technicians and relationship managers – to bring together a new network, build an assembly operation, follow strict health and safety protocols and maintain close links to understand the hospital requirements throughout.

“We are proud to be able to support our frontline colleagues in this way and to harness the creativity and resourcefulness of the county’s businesses and individuals.” 

Any organisations who may be able to assist with supplies for the visor project should contact business@uea.ac.uk.