I've made over 1,000 pieces of PPE from my dining table

My family and I are spending a great deal of time around our dining room table during lockdown – but not doing the leisurely activities you might expect.

We’ve turned the table into a mini assembly station as we’re dedicating our time to create and supply frontline workers with 3D printed face shields.

Many households across Malaysia – where we live – are doing the same, with the common goal of protecting the country from the Coronavirus outbreak.

On 18 March, Malaysia declared a Movement Control Order (MCO) in response to the worsening situation in the country.

For those of us living here, it’s incredibly worrying: a lot of citizens were (and still are) facing job losses and income, and many have been prevented from acquiring basic necessities.

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However, it has also brought out the best in society. Along with government support, lots of organisations have come forward to help individuals, deliver food aid and provide funds.

After a few social media posts went viral about doctors in one of our hospitals using makeshift face shields, I felt I had the responsibility to do my part, so just over a month ago I started making some using the 3D printer I have at home.

To produce them, I input a three-dimensional digital design and the printer slowly puts layer upon layer of a thermoplastic called Polylactic Acid (PLA) to create a physical object, in this case, the PPE.

I graduated last year with an MEng in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sheffield and when the lockdown ends, I hope to return to undertake a PhD in Rocket Propulsion.

Until then, I have spare time available and this feels like the least I can do for the frontline workers who, in my opinion, are absolute heroes.

I’m working as part of a team of 18 volunteers and we have now distributed over 6,000 shields to over 40 different hospitals and health clinics across Malaysia, as well as Plas Y Bryn Medical Centre in Wales!

We all work from our homes and it takes roughly 40 minutes to print each shield and another 20 to punch holes into the acetate sheets and assemble a finished product.

The materials and utility cost around 80p for each shield. Originally, my teammates and I were funding the project ourselves but to meet the demand from respective hospitals, and to pay for transport and materials costs, we’ve been supported by kind-hearted individuals after I began crowdfunding. I cannot thank those who have donated enough.

In my home, it has been very much a DIY family effort: my dad punches holes, my mum rounds-off the corners of the visors and my 13-year-old brother joins me in the assembly stage.

They were all eager to help me. We have always enjoyed each other’s company and this project has only brought us closer together, as we all feel a shared sense of responsibility.

In over four weeks of printing, I am incredibly proud that together we have contributed over 1,000 face shields to the cause.

Once printed, I send the shields to hospitals via a transport service called Grab (similar to Uber in the UK).

More than 300,000 have now been produced as part of Malaysia’s nationwide effort. It is an incredibly collaborative environment.

I’m one of 140 people in a WhatsApp group that responds to requests and despite not knowing each other, we share a lot of advice and feedback about the 3D prints, and help each other out if someone has a problem.

I’ve made friends from the medical field, from doctors and nurses to administrators of medical institutions.

This experience has shown me the best of humanity. It transcends race, religion, and culture. It is amazing to see that kind of camaraderie, not only from Malaysians, but from communities across the world who have come together.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a hero – more like a helpful sidekick. The frontline workers are still going, day and night, separated from their families. They do everything they can so the rest of us are safe with our loved ones. It’s hard to even countenance that kind of sacrifice.

I simply pray that we can all continue to do our part by staying at home and social distancing, so that eventually we can flatten the curve.

As told to Amy Clarke.

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