Face guards for NHS printed by academics at home

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Goldsmiths, University of London staff have set up 3D printing production stations in their kitchens as part of a national campaign to provide health and social care workers with thousands of new face masks.

Dr Theo Papatheodorou printing face guards at home

Academics from the Department of Computing are printing protective plastic face shields under the nationwide The Big Print campaign, an initiative set up this month to deliver 500,000+  face shields to frontline staff. 

Dr Theo Papatheodorou and Jesse Wolpert are among more than 7,000 volunteers across the country who are working from home to complete orders for personal protective equipment (PPE) following shortages in NHS hospitals, GP practices and care homes. 

3D printing is a process which builds a three-dimensional object from designs created on a computer. Digital models are turned into physical objects by adding one layer of plastic at a time. 

The Department of Computing’s 3D printers are now working day and night producing stacks of PPE shields. Using an open source design approved by many health agencies, one shield takes about 75 minutes to print. At this rate, about 80 shields a day are being produced by the team.

The plastic parts needed to assemble a shield are then safely packaged up in ziplock bags, labelled and delivered regularly to a neighbourhood collection point for delivery to distribution centres.

The Big Print was launched by James Coxon, a palliative care doctor with an interest in technology. As more 3D printer owners volunteered to help, they started 3DCrowd UK – a community of 3D printer owners. The effort has delivered thousands of masks already and has 100,000 currently in production.

A spokesperson for 3D Crowd UK said: “It’s clear no medical supply chain in the world can manage this kind of sudden demand, even one as magnificent and huge as the NHS. So we’re grateful to see the tide turning in acceptance of well thought-out community efforts like 3DCrowd to fill temporary gaps in basic protection equipment that this unprecedented crisis is making.”

Goldsmiths’ Department of Computing is contributing in a number of other ways to the international effort to understand covid-19.

Dr James Ohene-Djan and the technical team from the department are working with researchers at the School of Medicine at Washington University in St Louis, to utilise Goldsmiths computers for the Folding@Home project.

This ‘citizen science’ initiative brings together volunteers to run simulations of protein dynamics on their personal computers. Insights from this data can then be used to help scientists better understand biology, and provide new opportunities for developing therapeutics.

Covid-19 is currently considered untreatable because there have been no obvious sites identified in the protein structure of the virus where a drug can bind. Experimental methods can usually only reveal a single snapshot of a protein's shape.

Simulations of the type being generated through new research can uncover alternative structures where a drug can bind. Using these techniques, a 'druggable' site in Ebola was recently identified and drugs are currently developed to bind to it. The efforts are now concentrated on treating Covid-19. 

Huge computer power is required to build these simulations and Goldsmiths has stepped in with support by donating the background use of on-campus computers which are currently not in use as students are studying remotely from home.


All images © T.Papatheodorou