COVID-19 is continuing to wreak havoc across the globe with a shortage of healthcare products, in particular, a primary concern. Nothing is more pressing though than the current PPE shortage for frontline workers and ventilators to help coronavirus patients. We look at how some companies have diversified in a time of crisis as we continue to battle COVID-19.
Using Technology To Combat COVID-19
To help combat shortages, many businesses in the UK have transformed their primary production facilities to manufacture additional PPE and ventilators. Laser cutting machines have become essential for businesses operating across various industries and for good reason.
Considering the variety of materials that laser cutters can process plus the fast processing times and efficient workflows, it’s made it somewhat easier for businesses that use laser cutters every day to adapt. These companies have been able to quickly shift their focus to the production of PPEs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many, the speedy processing of their laser systems have allowed them to manufacture large quantities of face shields, visors and other PPE. This is often done quickly and at no profit for community projects, care homes and local NHS trusts among others.
Related: ‘The NHS Ventilator Challenge’
The Versatility Of Laser Cutting Machines
The transformation has been made possible due to the versatility of laser cutting machines. It makes it easier to switch the focus to a new material even if the machine has never processed it before. The most common materials used when making PPE are clear acrylics and plastics. This includes PET which is processed using laser cutters and then assembled manually.
Laser cutting is suitable for various materials including metals, acrylics, MDF, wood and paper among others. You can configure one machine to perform multiple tasks but the ability to cut certain materials will depend on the machine’s power.
By using laser cutting machines to process these materials, businesses can quickly and easily produce face shields, visors and other items following the UK government guidelines.
Benefits Of Laser Cutting Machines
Laser cutting is a lot faster and more accurate than traditional mechanical cutting methods, especially with complex cuts. Laser cutting outshines plasma or flame cutting in terms of speed up to a certain thickness of around 10 mm. Here’s a brief overview of some benefits:
- Does not require different tools for each cut
- Contactless cutting means no mechanical friction and a small heat-affected zone (HAZ)
- Accuracy of approximately 0.1 mm helps achieve high precision without treatment
- The accuracy ensures parts are replicas of one other
- Laser cutting is highly autonomous and requires very little manpower
- The cutting speed and little need for manual labour mean lower costs compared to other methods
- Can cut small diameter holes with complex detail and good edge quality
- The laser beam does not wear during the cutting process
UK Businesses Helping Fight COVID-19
There hasn’t been much good news to report on except how UK businesses have transformed their primary production facilities to manufacture additional PPE and ventilators. Unsurprising, it’s not only UK manufacturers stepping onto the pitch producing PPE.
Companies from all walks of life are using their laser cutting machines to become part of the solution. This includes acrylic fabricators, those making personalised gifts, universities, schools and paper processing companies.
Trotec is a leading supplier of laser cutting, engraving and marking machines. They have created a design file for face shields to help businesses who would like to contribute PPE to the frontlines. Their design allows the whole piece to be cut effortlessly from a single sheet of material which optimises production.
A customer of Trotec, Patternise, are more familiar with creating intricate laser-cut paper displays for events and high street shop windows but accepted the challenge to make visors for healthcare workers on the frontline using their high-speed Trotec GS1000 laser cutting machine.
Owner, Rob Payne, said: “We were able to supply 1600 visors within an extremely aggressive timeframe, and thanks to the support of our suppliers, we were able to supply all visors at no charge to those in desperate need.”
Goozeberry Hill Etsy Shop
Elise Williams runs Goozeberry Hill specialising in personalised gifts predominantly made from wood, paper and card. They had never cut plastics on their Speedy 300 laser cutter before but they wanted to be part of the solution and made it work.
Elise had this to say: “There was a lot of trial and error before I perfected the cutting, but now I am full steam ahead with over 750 masks (and counting) being distributed in my area. They have gone to bus drivers, care workers, mental health nurses and everyone in between. The project has been funded by generous donations from the public.”
The Engine House
A local authority contacted The Engine House in Bexley, a creative co-working space and incubator for start-ups, to join the fight against COVID-19. They initially used injection moulding and die-cutting but switched to their laser cutting machine. This came after waiting a week to receive their initial design from the fabricators but realised it needed some changes which made the process far too slow.
Head Of Creative Services, Lewie Winters said: “PETG was the material of choice so we got some on order which was going to arrive in 24 hours, we then used a mixture of card and laminate paper to prototype the design on our laser cutter which was a success. We are now likely to obtain CE certification this week and will be able to produce 20,000 units per day to help supply the NHS.”
COVID-19 Prevention Tips
COVID-19 spreads from person to person and usually during close contact with those in medical facilities at the highest risk. The virus spreads through the air by droplets that people release when sneezing, coughing or even exhaling. In any of these cases, close contact of no more than 2 meters is required.
Here are some COVID-19 guidelines on staying safe and healthy as outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO):
- Clean your hands often using soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth
- Cover your nose and mouth with a bent elbow or a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing
- Stay home if you feel unwell
- If you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention but call in advance
- Follow the directions of your local health authority
It’s hard to find positivity during these unprecedented times but the UK manufacturing sector certainly seems up there. Seeing how people come together during a crisis as serious as COVID-19 is inspiring and should serve as a reminder of what is possible when we combine forces.
We don’t know how or when this pandemic will come to an end but until then, we urge everyone to stay at home and pay attention to government rules and regulations. In case you missed it, have a look at the article we posted on how the pandemic is affecting UK manufacturing.
Visit PRV’s website to find out more about their precision engineering and custom fabrication services. You can also have your say by commenting in the section below or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or LinkedIn using the hashtag, #PRVtech.