Friday, August 7

Providing PPE for Covid-19 front-liners

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Ting (left) is seen when handing over the face shields to Sibu Hospital. From third left are Sibu Hospital Clinical Research Centre head Dr Toh Teck Hock and Ha.

THE Covid-19 pandemic is threatening lives and livelihoods around the world as health professionals and authorities race against time to contain the spread of this deadly disease.

An illustration of laser frame cutting.

In just three months, more than a million people in 180 countries have fallen sick from the viral illness, while at least 50,000 have died in a public health emergency the UN is calling the world’s “most challenging crisis” since World War II.

The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals has become increasingly problematic as Covid-19 cases continue to surge, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A face shield.

This has prompted an MIT team to design disposable face shields for quick mass production to address hospitals’ needs in the US.

Call of duty

On the local front, University College of Technology Sarawak (UCTS) together with Sibu’s 3D printing Malaysia Community for Covid-19, have produced and delivered 890 face shields to Sibu Hospital, according to Dr Alan Ting Huong Yong, a deputy director attached to the Centre for Research and Development at UCTS.

The contributors are David Ha Heng Lee (3DX), Ferdinand Wong (Faith 3DP), Alex Tong, and Polycarp Ling.

Breaking down the figures, Ting said the first batch of 30 frames was delivered on March 24, followed by the second batch (138 frames) on March 25, and the last batch (722 frames) on March 29.

“Actually, this is an initiative of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). And UCTS has been appointed by the Sibu Hospital to conduct medical equipment research on developing face shields for the health staff,” he said.

A face shield.

Researchers, lecturers, and technicians from three schools — Computing and Creative Media, Engineering and Technology, and Built Environment — teamed up for the big task at hand.

“The initial 3D and laser-frame designs were obtained from the 3D printing Malaysia Community for Covid-19. However, the designs were further improved to meet users’ requirements at the Sibu Hospital as well as for the 3D printers and laser cutting machines we have on campus,” he said.

The UCTS team comprises 10 staff — six lecturers and four technicians.

A 3D printing machine.

Ting said there were two main components, 3D frames and plastic transparency, adding, “According to the Sibu Hospital, if the face shield is used when attending to Covid-19 patients, both the frame and plastic transparency have to be disposed of otherwise the frame can be reused although the plastic transparency remains disposable.”

He pointed out that their version could be used in several sectors such as household, industry, healthcare, and the like, noting that this was mainly due to the reusable frame.

He also revealed the raw materials for the 3D printer (PLA filament), laser cutting machine (acrylics), and plastic transparency are available locally.

Production times

The making of face shields in progress at UCTS.

There are currently two types of machines for face shields production — a 3D printer and a laser cutting machine. The production time is about 90 minutes for one 3D printer and between three and four minutes for a laser cutting machine.

Ting said UCTS’ production rate is 40 units per day for 3D printer and 100 units per day for laser cutting machine.

According to him, the major difference between their face shields and those available in the market is pricing.

The estimated costings for 3D printing and laser cutting as compared to the market costings are RM2 for 3D printing, including plastic transparency and RM4.50 for laser cutting, including plastic transparency. The amounts — RM2 and RM4.50 — refer to the estimated cost per piece and per unit.

Ting tries out a face shield.

Ting disclosed there is a plan to commercialise the face shields.

“Commercialisation of the laser cutting machine is in the pipeline since technology can produce more in less time.”

He said 3D printing and laser cutting were already part of the syllabi for Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design (Hons) and Bachelor of Science in Architecture (Hons) courses.

He added UCTS may embark on collaborative research with Sibu Hospital in the area of PPE.

  • Dr Alan Ting Huong Yong is a deputy director attached to the Centre for Research and Development at the University College of Technology Sarawak (UCTS).
  • He received his BEng (Hons), majoring in robotics and automation from Multimedia University, Malaysia, in 2008.
  • In addition, he obtained his Master of Engineering Science and PhD in Engineering, specialising in computer vision from Multimedia University, Malaysia, in 2011 and 2018, respectively.
  • He worked as a programmer at Silverlake Axis Sdn Bhd in 2010, and later as an academician at Multimedia University, Melaka Campus, from 2011 until 2016.
  • Ting has been actively involved in software and computer vision development, particularly on the web and cloud using Microsoft and Google Technologies.