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3D printing face shields for health workers

Andrew McDowall wearing one of his 3D printed face shields

3D Design Technical Officer Andrew McDowall explains how he made 3D printed face shields for healthcare workers dealing with coronavirus.

I began my employment at ARU in January 2020, working as a 3D Technical Officer in the Cambridge School of Art workshop. The workshops cover a wide range of technical equipment and processes including woodwork, metalwork, ceramics and laser cutting. One of the growing areas of interest in this facility is 3D printing.

Due to COVID-19, the workshops have been closed temporarily and the technical staff are now working from home making plans for the time when we reopen.

During this lockdown period, I was contacted by a GP practice where a friend of my family is based. They alerted me to the plight that many NHS employees are facing regarding PPE, face shields in particular. I was already aware of people in the 3D printing community who were helping in this way, so when I was asked if I could help using my personal 3D printer, I was more than happy to lend a hand.

Screenshot form the design file of a 3D printed face shield

I started by looking for existing 3D design files online that I thought would be appropriate to use on my printer. Once I had found one which I thought would be acceptable, I modified it slightly so that it would work on my machine. When the first one had finished printing (after roughly two hours), I checked the fit and comfort, then set about reducing the print time to one hour 20 minutes so that I could optimise how many could be printed in one day.

Parts of 3D printed face shields ready for assembly

The face shield has a very simple design. It comprises a simple 3D printed headband made from a material called PLA (polylactic acid – a form of corn starch biodegradable plastic), a piece of elastic around the back of the head, and a replaceable acetate sheet which is inserted into a slit at the front of the headband. One of the great things these face shields is that they are extremely compact for delivery, they are relatively inexpensive (each one costing about £1 to make), and they are easy to assemble.

After making my first face shield, I put out a plea via social media asking if anyone who had access to a 3D printer would do the same thing. While I am only able to produce a relatively small quantity as an individual, I am pleased to see that through social media many more people are joining in, and my hope is that other individuals can help in their community and places where resources are not getting through any other way.

Perhaps in the future every community will have a 3D printer, like the one on the International Space Station, and rather than physically sending the required essential items to where they are needed, a digital file can be sent and simply printed out.

Andrew McDowall is 3D Design Technical Officer in our Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.