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ADSK News UK & Ireland

Autodesk Technology Centres Band Together for PPE Response

Originally posted on 24 Apr 2020.

In the past few weeks, many major manufacturers have shuttered production as global economies come to a halt due to the coronavirusAs healthcare systems operate past capacity to contain the crisis, the disruption in the manufacturing supply chain has added to the stress by creating global shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE).   

 The Autodesk Technology Centres were designed as spaces for exploring new possibilities for making, so in an effort to support healthcare workers on the frontlines, the teams at the centres are taking action.   

Utilising the resources available at Autodesk workshops in San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, and Birmingham, UK, technology centre members have joined forces to help bridge the gap in PPE shortages by facilitating production of much-needed face shields. 

woman constructs a face shield
An Autodesk employee constructs a face shield at the Technology Centre in Boston.

In Boston, employee volunteers led by technology centre shop staff are using an open-source design to produce a single fold origami-style face shield, laser cut from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), plus a small headband cut from the same material. Nearly 5,000 face shields have been donated across 13 medical clinics in the state. “The feedback I have received from the organisations has been positive. Hearing how useful our face shields have been truly makes me proud to be a part of this project,” said Joe Aronisworkshop manager in Boston.  

“It was very therapeutic to do something physical with my hands and see the stack of readytoship masks grow and the boxes fill up,” said volunteer Lilli Smith, a senior project manager at Autodesk. 

At the technology center in Birmingham, the same opensource design is being used to produce origamistyle face shields with a modification using Velcro. To date, approximately 1,800 face shields have been delivered to the National Health Service, with more in production.  

A workshop member at the Bman uses a laser cutter to cut PET material for face shields.

A workshop member at the Boston Technology Centre uses a laser cutter to cut PET material for face shields.

In Toronto, the technology centre loaned three Markforged 3D printers to the resident team at Advanced Perioperative Imaging Lab (APIL) to produce their version of an open-source visor-style face shield created by medical hardware maker Glia as part of a project with Toronto General Hospital (TGH). They are currently producing between 150-200 face shields per day for medical staff at TGH and other hospitals across the country and hope to ramp up production with the additional printer resources.  

“One thing we’ve been learning quickly, and rather painfully, is how to manage these distributed manufacturing models, said Dr. Azad Masharichief anaesthesiologist and director at APIL. “It’s fairly tractable when you have one organisation volunteering 40 printers or when you have a few large pods like that… it gets much more complex when many people want to commit… we don’t yet have a sustainable model for managing a large network of small producers in a system of distributed manufacturing.”    

A selection of face shields produced at the Autodesk Technology Center in San Francisco, CA.

A selection of face shields produced at the Autodesk Technology Centre in San Francisco, CA.

In San Francisco, the workshop team is 3Dprinting parts for face shields by Maker Nexus, a non-profit makerspace community, who organised the efforts and designed the PPE for easy production. Autodesk has been instrumental in supporting the efforts underway at Maker Nexus, and other maker-spaces across the country, to rapidly produce critically needed personal protective equipment for our frontline medical professionals,” said Eric Hess, general manager at Maker Nexus.  

On site at the technology centre workshop, the team is printinin ABS and ASA on the Stratysys Fortus machineswhile offsite, they are printing with polyester on the UltimakerMore than 560 face shields will be donated to Bay Area medical facilities.  

In the months of March and April, the technology centres have produced and donated more than 7,000 units of PPE to over a dozen healthcare facilitieswith the capacity to produce a few thousand more.   

For most major manufacturers and automated factories in North America, pivoting to develop PPE is not an easy switch. There are many factors to consider before changing gears and retooling to be able to produce these items in high volumes. Sunny Sahotaa technology centre engagement manager in San Francisconoted, “At a high level, the cost of change for larger manufacturers is quite high, both financially and on laborA lot of it comes down to a company’s ability to prioritise agility in manufacturing.” 

For the technology centres, producing PPE has been possible due to our agile and adaptable environment, while navigating such challenges as office closures, complying to social distancing protocols and sourcing materials.   

“We will continue to make face shields to support the need until industry supply chains tool up or we run out of material,” said Aronis. “At that point, we will see if there are other needs that we could support at the technology centres.” 

Learn more about the Autodesk Technology Centre efforts.  

Deborah Reid