UOW researchers come together to protect health workers against COVID-19

March 27, 2020
Lauren Hood

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), TRICEP [the Translational Research Initiative for Cellular Engineering and Printing, supported by the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) Materials Node and MedTech and Pharma Growth Centre (MTPConnect)] and UOW Makerspace are combining forces to provide local protective gear solutions during the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

As people around the world look at the use of 3D printing to create devices and structures that could help in the COVID-19 crisis, the UOW teams are pooling their 3D printing capabilities to produce face shields to protect the region’s healthcare workers.


“It turns out great minds think alike,” said ACES/ANFF/TRICEP Director Professor Gordon Wallace.


“Our team at TRICEP, facilitated by ANFF, had been working on a 3D printed face shield design, when we were contacted by UOW Makerspace who was working on a similar concept.”


The groups are now working closely with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District to determine what can be produced using local 3D printing capabilities, as well as refining designs and producing prototypes for final testing at Wollongong Hospital. In parallel, the team will move towards scaling up production in collaboration with local industry to produce hundreds of the shields per week.


TRICEP (A UOW/ANFF Materials Node/MTP Connect initiative) houses world-leading research infrastructure to develop innovative technologies in 3D printing and fabrication, and 3D bioprinting. The initiative draws on expertise and facilities available within ACES and the ANFF Materials Node, both based at UOW’s Innovation Campus.


UOW Makerspace, also at the Innovation Campus, is a public creative space providing ‘makers’ from the community with a space to brainstorm ideas and access tools, equipment and training to bring ideas to life, from high tech solutions to novel approaches. Spaces such as this provide a mechanism to bring people together and create an environment where ideas are cultivated and the strengths of our community makers are realised.


Gordon said the 3D printed face shield has demonstrated the true spirit of collaboration in times of crisis.


“We’re working towards a common goal and can move quickly, which is critical as face shields are in high demand, there is a great shortage of them and they are needed immediately,” Gordon said.


“In these unprecedented times, I’m impressed at how quickly people have come together.”

UOW Makerspace Manager Jessica Grozdanov is part of the team working on 3D printed face shields for local healthcare workers.

UOW Makerspace Manager Jessica Grozdanov said the face shields initiative highlight the importance of direct collaboration between initiatives like makerspaces, innovative manufacturing facilities and medical institutions to solve community challenges.


“Over the past week, an open source design for a face shield that can be 3D printed has been circulated internationally. We have 3D printers available at the UOW Makerspace which got us thinking whether our local hospitals could benefit from an initiative like this,” Jessica said.


“Makerspaces and other innovative manufacturing initiatives are increasingly playing an important role in the response to crises, as we can respond quickly to a particular need and can offer innovative, local solutions in high priority scenarios.”


The researchers involved in the project are part of a larger national forum of universities and hospitals that are consolidating an approach utilising their resources to produce research outcomes and initiatives in a response to COVID-19. The forum includes ACES collaborators A/Prof Payal Mukherjee (RPA) and Prof Mia Woodruff (QUT).


The team is also testing capabilities on more sophisticated 3D printing designs, including prototyping components for ventilators such as valves and splitters, if the need should arise.

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