IOM3 members key to COVID-19 efforts

Materials World magazine
24 Apr 2020

IOM3 members are supporting frontline workers in response to Coronavirus. Katherine Williams reports.

COVID-19 has disrupted lives, livelihoods, communities and businesses globally. Many IOM3 members and their companies are working to meet increased demands for packaging, and medical and protective equipment during the outbreak. 

PS Marsden (PSM), Nottingham, UK, is a familiar name to readers of Materials World. The precision engineering company has offered up its machine shop to help produce ventilator components. Technical Manager, John Wardle, explains the speed involved. ‘On the Friday afternoon, we offered our help [to an existing customer]. We received a phone call about 7.00pm asking if we would be able to support. 

‘By Monday morning the first batch of components were ready for testing. The effort is notable given that PSM only received the prototype drawings at 11.00 on Saturday morning.’ 

PSM is not the only familiar name involved in the Ventilator Challenge UK, set up by government to deliver new breathing equipment. IOM3 members are involved at organisations including Airbus, BAE Systems, Dyson, GKN Aerospace, Renishaw, Rolls-Royce plc, Siemens, Thales, Unilever, McLaren and Red Bull Racing.

Safety first

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is also driving changes to outputs. Martin’s Rubber Company in Southampton, UK, has a long history of supply and support to niche automotive and aerospace sectors and its work processes are now totally altered. 

Technical Manager, Izaak Watson, explains, ‘So far, we have been approached for components on the Ventura CPAP and the CoVent, as well as our own designs for a protective visor. In this crisis we have made all COVID-19 related work a priority. They are the first jobs to be reviewed for manufacturing in detail by a multi-disciplinary team available at any time of day.’

The company has moved to split shift production with no overlap, and there is strict enforcement of physical separation distances and production is paperless. 

Martin’s has never before developed a medical product and taken it through the approval process. It is astounded by the speed of approval. ‘We delivered the prototype on Monday, it was submitted for approval by Wednesday, and we should have full approval within the week – that was held up because of annual leave. The process could, in theory, only take two working days.’

Watson describes the polymer materials used. ‘We wanted a material that could be hot-steam sterilised at 120-130°C,’ and settled on polycarbonate, ‘luckily, no one [else] seems to want polycarbonate right now.’ 

The fittings are rubber. ‘The benefit of using rubber in PPE applications is the ability to design for longevity and multiple uses,’ notes Watson. ‘We are often required to select materials based on their fluid compatibility or resistance to the environment in which they are used. Rubber is also tactile, so can conform to various users’ heads, which hopefully should be more comfortable if worn for a long time.’

As well as recognising the team’s effort, Watson is keen to praise the company’s raw material providers. ‘Our suppliers have been remarkable, our main supplier has remained open and is being flexible in terms of rushing material in.’

Martin’s is a specialist company and is not designed for high-volume work, so it plans to make its design available in open-access format on its website, ‘including how other manufacturers can produce them in rubber to try to keep up with demand across the country and perhaps the world’, says Watson.

Above and beyond

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in Gaydon, UK, is also making NHS-approved visors. The company has turned over its prototype build operations to this production, applying its CAD design expertise. Each visor can be easily dismantled and cleaned before reuse.
Similar to Martin’s work, the clear shield is manufactured using chemically-resistant polycarbonate, which is trimmed using a multi-cutter machine. Created using laser sintering, jet fusion and fused deposition modelling processes, the cap top can be worn for hours. JLR has also provided vehicles to the British Red Cross and emergency services.

Other organisations are adopting different approaches. Some IOM3 members are making donations of PPE to the NHS and care sector. Haydale Composite Solutions, with six sites in the UK, has donated its stock of FFP3 grade disposable masks for distribution by the Welsh government. The company has also provided stock materials for 3D printing PPE and a team is producing emergency PPE and supporting rapid prototyping of other equipment for the NHS. 

Sellafield’s engineers in Warrington, UK, are making PPE using their home machines and aeromodelling hobby skills. Face visors have already been distributed to carers locally. 

The Materials Processing Institute has converted one of the laboratories at its Teesside campus into a production centre so that the region’s Marie Curie Nurses can be supplied with free hand sanitiser. 

Rohm has seen demand for Plexiglas soar as shops and other customer-facing sites add protective barriers. Our packaging members, meanwhile, have kept medical and grocery supplies moving through the supply chain in a safe manner. 

Many companies are currently unable to publicise the work in motion. Materials World knows that many organisations are pulling together to help and we recognise the vital role IOM3 members are playing. One thing is certain, notes Watson, ‘The way we work has changed forever’.