The University of Pretoria’s (UP) MakerSpace Centre is producing 3D-printed visor frames for facial shields for use by healthcare workers in Gauteng.
There is a shortage of facial shields for use by healthcare workers, who are testing and treating members of the public for COVID-19. Isak van der Walt, Manager: Digital Scholarship & Innovation Digital Services & Systems at UP’s Department of Library Services, said MakerSpace is producing visor frames for the Netcare and Mediclinic groups. It is also producing frames for UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences, and is partnering with Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
Van der Walt explained that MakerSpace is a centralised space “that focuses on creativity and innovation in a social context”. It provides students with the opportunity to experiment and use different technologies for their teaching, learning and research. On an academic level, it has assisted with the printing of 3D ticks for the Faculty of Veterinary Science, protoype mosquito feeders, replicas of the Homo naledi skull for teaching and learning purposes, as well as sets of lion’s teeth and skulls with fracture wounds.
The Centre is known for its innovation, and Van der Walt was tagged on Facebook by a colleague who requested his assistance with the 3D-printing of frames for visors. “I knew we have the capacity to do this, and wanted to make the contribution,” he explained.
Isak Van der Walt with the 3D-printed frames
The Makerspace Centre has three printers of the size that can manufacture the visor frames. “There are a few open source model files being circulated around the world, and we opted for the Netcare one that was on social media. The model is pretty standard and not complex at all, allowing for faster printing.”
The Centre can print a frame in an hour, which is faster than the standard two hours. Van der Walt explained: “We use Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Super PLA plastic for printing. This is a non-toxic plastic that is very versatile and cheap. We are able to change the print settings for the model, and have already opted to use our own optimised settings. The visor printing is only for the frame.”
Assisted by Sean Kruger, MakerSpacer Co-ordinator, they had a print run on Sunday, which yielded eight sets of frames. “With our capacity, we will be able to produce around 20 a day. We are optimising settings and hope we can speed this up. We also have additional printing resources on standby,” explained Van der Walt.
The call for printing went out to anyone in the Gauteng region with a 3D printer. UP’s TuksNovation (a technology business incubator), led by Anea Burk le Roux, will assist with printing as demand ramps up. “We are working with UP’s Information and Technology Services Department, which involves Herman Jacobs who is advising the UP Faculty of Health Sciences. In consultation with Jacobs, several designs were investigated of which one was approved for production.”
MakerSpace is footing the bill, as this is its contribution in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. “We recently stocked up on a lot of filament so we will be able print a substantial amount of visor frames,” said Van der Walt.
He added: “The UP MakerSpace contribution goes towards community upliftment, and I believe we have the resources in the country to help our own communities. I am personally involved because I believe our healthcare workers need every possible resource to fight this outbreak. I have two family members in the healthcare industry and know the demands set by this crisis. We depend on them and they need all the help they can get.”
He said the 3D printing of the visor frames “highlights the amazing contribution that 3D printing can make to the healthcare industry. I think the most wonderful benefit of 3D printing is the reaction speed in meeting a problem, combined by the power of social media.”
Should companies or members of the public have 3D printers and want to help with the production of visor frames, please email Isak van der Walt at [email protected]
Besides 3D printing, UP’s MakerSpace, which is believed to be the first one used for academic purposes in the country, allows students access to 3D scanning, Internet of Things devices, coding, electronics and other forms of manufacturing with generic tools and equipment.