It’s no secret that throughout the world Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a precious commodity. The vital defensive apparatus that helps to protect front line workers from the highly contagious Coronavirus is in short supply. So when the call came out from Norfolk County Council to strengthen its supply to local hospitals- promoted by Hethel Innovation- Neucin Design didn’t hesitate in saying yes. Specialists in the development of medical devices and life science products, and with over 25 years of experience, the team knew they were more than up for the job.

As Carol Balfour, Design Director at Neucin Design, explains ‘An email came in from James from Hethel Innovation regarding Norfolk County Council looking for people with 3D printing capabilities to make PPE. So we downloaded the 3D print file of the face mask frame, ran a trial on our printer and then I contacted Norfolk Council to start the ball rolling. Originally we were only going to make the frames but then I managed to source some clear PETG shield material, buttonhole elastic and self-adhesive foam and offered to make and fully assemble the visors. We have an order to produce 750 fully assembled shields’.

Faced with the challenge of producing the PPE order as soon as possible, the Neucin Design team knew their small 3D printer, which was churning out just eight frames a day, wasn’t going to cut it. ‘We decided to buy an additional bigger printer and got it delivered within two days so we could increase production’, said Carol. With the new printer installed, the team were able to boost their productivity to make between 100 and 150 face mask frames sets a week. With a team of three Neucin Design employees, the company is able to fully assemble up to 150 masks weekly.

‘Naturally, we had a few teething problems with our printers to start with as we normally run PLA material, but for the visor frames we use PETG, which is a more appropriate material to use in this case. Although it is more sensitive and difficult to run through the printers, after a few trials and tests we got it running on our printers with no issues, well apart from the occasional printer jam! One of our team who is actually based in Glasgow is on lockdown here with us, so he is currently managing the printers 24/7, and even gets up in the middle of the night for pring changeovers to ensure maximum output.

‘We moved the 3D printers to our home, so we could run them 24/7 but all the assembly and manufacture is being conducted at our workshop in Hethel Engineering Centre. This is because at the Centre we can maintain a more dirt free and cleaner environment whilst being in a more appropriate space for setting up a dedicated assembly area’.

On delivering their first batch of protective face shields, Neucin Design received positive feedback from Norfolk County Council. As a result, a further 3000 fully assembled visors have been ordered from the team. With this further order and increased quantity, Neucin Design have increased their production and can now produce 500 – 600 fully assembled masks a week.

‘It’s really rewarding to be able to help in some small way during this health crisis. We’re really thankful to our suppliers for providing the PETG filament, PETG sheet, buttonhole elastic and foam we need to fully assemble the visors. Without their help and contribution, our undertaking would not be possible’.

Speaking of Neucin Design’s efforts, Imogen Shipperlee, Innovation Manager at Hethel Innovation, commented ‘We’re really proud that one of our Hethel tenants took up the call to help our local community. The Neucin Design team are working incredibly hard to produce the visors and we’re glad to have been able to facilitate this collaboration between them and Norfolk County Council to help the amazing healthcare professionals risking their lives while caring for the unwell’.