Jasmine Pradhan interviews Duncan Pope, one of the people stepping in to produce Personal Protective Equipment for the NHS…
Hello! You’re an independent set builder and carpenter by trade, but after losing your work due to Covid-19 you took the initiative to start producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for the NHS. Can you tell us a bit about where you got the idea and how you went about actualising it?
After Lockdown led me to lose all of my existing income and upcoming work projects (and then breaking my humerus) I was aware I would not be working for some time and I felt at a loss of what to do with myself. A friend showed me the current projects being carried out by 3D Crowd and the National 3D Printing Society also working to provide PPE for the NHS and I was inspired.
Several years ago I had bought and made a 3D printer kit and run it for a while, and though it was not up to the quality I needed, I thought it would be a great way to spend some time during the lockdown. I brought my self a new 3D printer and several rolls of filament and set up a gofundme campaign to allow friends and family to contribute to materials for my 30th instead of other birthday gifts. Very quickly we passed my initial fundraising goal and things kept growing from there.
The response was so quick that we bought a second printer and contacted the local GP surgery, emergency care unit, hospital and care homes, which meant that we were able to get the PPE to where it needed to be as quickly as possible.
3D Printing sounds a little “out there” for some of us, can you explain the process?
3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing. Designs are created in a 3D design software package before being transferred to another software package called a Slicer where they are broken down into a collection of horizontal layers. This is then exported as code that the 3D Printer can read and is transferred to the machine. The 3D printer uses this information to extrude material in the shape of the horizontal ‘slices’ from the ground up to create the finished product. As you can imagine this is very versatile and has a variety of applications.
Tell us about an average day in your new production line. I understand that other members of your family are getting involved too?
Each morning I get up and have a coffee as the overnight prints finish. Once the prints are finished they are checked for quality and, if needed, the associated files are recalibrated. The new files for the day are loaded and sent to print.
My daily tasks include cutting the headband material, cutting and forming the visor shields from clear acetate and assembling completed visors. Each set of 20 visors are boxed up and dropped off at the depot. If a batch is for a local surgery or hospital then each item gets its first clean in 99% Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and is stored in a ziplock bag. They then receive a second IPA clean (from myself and my sister Ali) and are then bagged, sealed, labelled and dated. Each item is left for at least 3 days in its airtight container before being opened again. I believe this is especially important, as even though they have been well cleaned, we want to make sure that none of the virus that could be potentially contained can survive.
Other than this, the day is filled with constant problem solving: new designs for the visors are released often meaning that new printing profiles have to be created. Both printers also require constant supervision, maintenance and cleaning to function for 20 + hours a day at high speed. I am also working on a more functional and reusable design that will be more applicable for general use as the lockdown is eased and businesses begin to open again which is coming along really well.
When Ali, my sister, is not looking after her son she continues with the cutting and sewing of the scrubs she is making for local hospital nurses and prison medics. My mum who is based near Cheddar is doing the same: sewing scrubs and face masks for the local NHS.
Who is benefiting from the face shields that you are providing?
I am producing something called the Prusa RC3, which is sent to the South East London 3D Crowd distribution hub. I also produce the N3DPS design that is shipped to the central hub and then distributed nationally. I have also sent several batches to local care homes, my GP surgery and my local hospital The Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH). I also store batches at my house for when the twitter-based #printforvictory movement contacts me to let me know that there is a specific local need for a type of PPE I have in stock.
What has the response from keyworkers been?
The response has been great. Both N3DPS and 3DcrowdUK are well received by keyworkers and there are some lovely photos of the PPE in use on both of their websites and social media. I also received a letter from the PRUH expressing their gratitude and appreciation which was very touching.
Do you see your experience during this time having any long term influence on your work in the future?
Yes, absolutely. I am currently working with a team to deliver a design and print for a neonatal CPAPS (a mechanical ventilator) enclosure, which is allowing me to put my Bioscience degree and design experience to good use. I hope to continue this movement! As the UK recovers from Covid-19 I hope to do an outreach program to other countries who still need help. I will be taking orders for custom prints when this is all over and I’m working on setting up a photogrammetry and 3D scanning studio in my spare time.
How can people find out more about you/support the project?
You can visit our Instagram @dpt.designs to keep up with our progress. If you would like to contribute to replacing worn out parts on the printers, or shipping of our current stock, our gofundme page is www.gofundme.com/f/-3d-print-ppe