USYD students develop prototype reusable PPE

A transdisciplinary student team from the University of Sydney (USYD) has created a prototype of a reusable face shield, demonstrating how to turn university resources into a rapid manufacturing solution to respond to medical emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

In collaboration with the USYD’s Charles Perkins Centre X-Lab, a 240-student laboratory space with laser cutting technology, the team has developed and scaled an industrial process that can ramp up quickly to manufacture reusable face shields.

The group is called Project APPEAR, led by PhD candidate Luke Gordon, and supported by the Research office in the University’s role as legal manufacturer. The main idea being that it can provide personal protective equipment (PPE) when needed but stands down when not required. An added benefit is that the design of the equipment is flexible, durable and relatively cheap – meaning it also solves the issue of single-use/throw-away plastics in many hospitals for the shields used over face masks.

The face shields being trialled, based on an open-source design by Online Laser Cutting, have been created in collaboration with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital clinicians through the students’ connections and working relationships. The project work is being done on a voluntary basis; a grant application has also been made to extend the project. The team is proceeding with registering the shields with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“Our collaboration has resulted in a reusable, rapidly manufacturable face shield that can help protect our frontline healthcare workers from aerosols – or airborne pathogens, as demonstrated during COVID-19,” said Gordon, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and Biomedical Engineering graduate in the Faculty of Engineering.

“Working across faculties, with the local health community and our industry partners, we have demonstrated that our agile university-based research unit can create a rapid manufacturing solution for the provision of local hospitals during medical emergency.”

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Laurent Rivory, said a number of the students including Luke Gordon came from the University-led multi-institution “CoVida” ventilator project, announced by Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently, which had an oversupply of volunteers. The students came up with the idea of APPEAR as a way to develop a healthcare solution that was relatively simple and cost-effective.

“We view this as a very educational experience for these students even if the context of having the University as device manufacturer is somewhat unusual in the sector,” Rivory said.

“The coronavirus crisis is a good stimulus for us to innovate and push the boundaries across the board, including as we try to contribute in areas other than the leading COVID-19 research we are also conducting.”

As part of this multidisciplinary project, the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering’s FABLAB and the School of Architecture, Design and Planning’s Design Modelling and Fabrication Lab have provided their laboratories, laser cutters, expertise and 3D printing technologies to aid in rapidly prototyping many iterations of face shields to ensure the updated design meets requirements across a range of hospitals and healthcare specialties.