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Lead Probit developer prints face-shields for key workers

Probit Consulting’s lead web application developer has turned his 3D-printing hobby into a vital source of 3D printed face-shields. Around the world there is a growing shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for all frontline workers.

Dafydd Brown works full-time from his home in North Wales, but when he saw that hospitals and key workers in his local neighbourhood were struggling to find enough equipment for their PPE complement, he decided to find a way to help in his free time.

An initiative to collect all the parts required for producing maker-made face-shields had been set up by M-SParc, a science park on the Isle of Anglesey. Specifically the Prusa RC3 face-shield design was being used and M-SParc was working closely with a consultant anaesthetist (and 3D-printing enthusiast) from the local hospital on the final design.

Daf initially committed to supply 220 3D-printed headbands over a three-week period: “I thought this was an achievable goal with my available resources and time constraints around work,” he said.

Dafydd stepped up his plans when friends wanted to donate to his efforts. A GoFundMe page with an initial goal of £200 to cover costs quickly gained traction and raised over £1,500 after the first two weeks. This was given a massive boost with a £5,000 donation from actor Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie, who have local connections, reaching a total of £7,218.

“Thanks to the additional funding I was able to aim to produce over 3,000 visor kits,” Daf explained. “I also expanded my reach by distributing materials to other makers, enough to make a 1,000 basic face shields.

“I realised I need to set up a makeshift factory, so I took over a guest-room that was originally converted from a pig-sty at my family farm near Pwllheli and setup a production line. Because of the fundraiser being shared on Facebook, I was being contacted by local people urgently in need of face shields, that included the chemist, ambulance, district nurses, fire-fighters and care homes,” said Daf.

“At this point I decided I should try and source the clear plastic sheets needed for the visors and produce full kits myself. This way I could supply local demand directly and quickly.”

Facing a national shortage of materials due to a surge in global demand, Daf hit lucky with a supplier in Norfolk who had held back some suitable clear sheets for such a project.

“This particular clear sheet is like gold dust, no one can get their hands on it,” said Daf, “and I was very lucky to find a relatively small supply of 700 in Norfolk.”

Given the scarcity of materials, Daf realised he needed to find an alternative design after making the initial 700 shields.

“Luckily there are many designs available online that have been proven and tested in real-life situations,” he said. “The advantage of these alternatives is they use readily available acetate sheets for the visor and can be printed in less time.

“The downside is there is not as much supporting documentation, if any, and they don’t meet the minimum requirements needed for medical use like the Prusa design does.”

Daf takes great care with hygiene and hand-washing and ensures that the shields are sanitised thoroughly in his home factory. After being disinfected, they go into a modified clothes’ drying booth.

They are then exposed to UVC germicidal light before being packed into a Ziploc bag. These are also UVC treated before being finally bagged into sets of face-shield kits, ready for distribution.

Each kit contains a 3D printed headband, laser-cut visor, elastic and an information guide.

The face-shields are designed to be disposed of after use as it is difficult to clean them satisfactorily due to the inherent properties of the plastics. However, well aware of the limited availability of equipment for frontline workers, Prusa is researching ways their specific design can be safely sanitised and reused.

Dr. Philip Jonkergouw, co-founder and chief executive of Probit Consulting said, “When I heard what Dafydd was doing, I had no hesitation in finding ways to support him. We have offered him extra annual leave to ensure he can meet all his orders in a timely way.

“This is a difficult time for everyone, especially those treating and caring for patients. Dafydd has gone over and above in supporting his local community and we couldn’t be more proud to have him on our team.”