Source University of the Witwatersrand.
Source University of the Witwatersrand.
  • A team of University of the Witwatersrand engineers has come up with an innovative face shield design which can be made in just three minutes - made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheeting and cut using a laser.
  • Realising that it can take up to 90 minutes to make a single face shield using a 3D printer, the team switched to other materials laying around in the workshop, to make the process faster.
  • They now can make between 200 to 500 shields a day.
  • Over 400 face shields have been delivered to Johannesburg hospitals already.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

A team of University of the Witwatersrand engineers has come up with an innovative face shield design which can be made in just three minutes (including the set-up times) to protect hospital staff in the fight against Covid-19.

Made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheeting and cut using a laser, the shields are aimed at answering a national call to help meet the growing demand for protective gear for medical staff, the university published in a news release.  

“We are sharing the design freely, but most companies cannot donate the labour and overhead costs. We need these shields to be supplied to the hospitals for free because they have big constraints in their procurement systems. We are therefore looking at models that could allow as many people as possible to use the design to help in whatever way they can,” said Randall Paton, Senior Lecturer at the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering.

Hospitals are not the only industries introducing face shields, retailers Checkers and Clicks are also rolling them out for their staff. Globally Nike has shifted to manufacturing face shields as well as other equipment instead of shoes to provide more equipment in the United States. 

The innovation was part of a response to Netcare 911, that made a call out for help to manufacture 3D printed face shield protective gear rings when the national lockdown began. 

Realising that it can take up to 90 minutes to make a single face shield using a 3D printer, the team switched to other materials laying around in the workshop, which ended up being the PVC.

By laser cutting a design into PVC, the engineers - Guy Richards, Letlotlo Phohole, Moses Mogotlane, Palesa Riba and Randall Paton - could reduce that time to 3 minutes, potentially making between 200 to 500 shields a day.

“We have developed a system that lets us feed the rolled plastic directly into the cutting bed and draw more through when done, so speed is climbing,” Paton told the University.

Up to 31 March, the Wits team have gone on to manufacture 140 face shields of which 120 were sent to the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre and another 20 to the Wits Protection Services staff.

An additional 300 face shields have been produced to date, of which 200 will be donated to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and 100 to Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital.

The university is calling on the public to make donations towards more innovative projects including respirators, devices to prevent people from touching their faces, and medical masks with filters made out of vacuum cleaner bags and make-up cotton pads designed by students of their own volition.

While they are still making more face shields, Paton told Business Insider that the team was looking to change material type from PVC sheeting because it is damaging the laser cutter.

“It doesn’t sound all that impressive, but 500 shields will require about 70 metres square of sheeting. That’s about 112 metres of sheeting of the roll that we have (which is 610mm wide). We have enough material to produce more and are fortunately going to be able to buy more of a more appropriate material using the generous donations that people have made already.”

The team consisted of Wits students from the Digital Incubator at the Tshimologong Precinct, the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering along with the Transnet Centre of Systems Engineering and the Transnet Matlafatšo Centre.

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