Positive force as designers and industry collaborate on Covid-19 medical kit

BIG's 3D-printed COVID-19 medical face shields (c) BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Brands around the world are joining forces in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Many companies are shifting their production lines and business models to help reduce the rapid spread of Covid-19. Industries – from automotive, engineering and technology, to architecture to design – are collaborating in the most inventive ways to rapidly design and manufacture much-needed medical equipment for hospitals around the world. In a matter of weeks, advanced Covid-19 respiratory devices and face shields are being produced using modern manufacturing methods, ready to be distributed safely to medical staff facing huge shortages. It shows the possibilities in the face of adversity when brands and businesses, science, design, and technology come together in this unified way.

Ventilators made by SEAT

With car production facilities largely halted, many companies are turning their efforts and engineering know-how to making medical devices. Through the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium, a group of leading technology and engineering firms are collaborating to rapidly produce medical respiratory devices and safe transport systems to hospitals. Led by the research centre Catapult, the Consortium includes aerospace firms Airbus, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, and automotive and racing companies Ford, McLaren Group and Mercedes Formula One, as well as key technology providers Microsoft, Accenture and Dell. So far, the UK government has ordered some 10,000 ventilators from the Consortium for the NHS, with a further 30,000 devices expected to be produced to meet demand.

At McLaren’s UK facility, teams normally assigned to crash testing the sports cars, are now testing ventilator trolleys to ensure they meet clinical guidelines. While Mercedes AMG’s powertrain division has worked with University College London engineers to design and develop a new medical device that delivers oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator. So far 40 of these Continuous Positive Airway Pressure systems have been delivered to London hospitals, and, if trials go well, Mercedes will be able to produce up to 1,000 machines a day.

McLaren Automotive Technology Centre

In Spain, the Martorell facility that produces the Seat Leon has been transformed to manufacture automated ventilators for local healthcare authorities. Another local brand, Nagami Design is using its robotic arm (usually reserved for high-end furniture making for the likes of Zaha Hadid Architects) to 3D print face shield for front-line hospital workers treating Covid-19 patients. The design is comprised of a visor worn across the forehead and secured behind the ears with an elastic, then a clear plastic film fastens to another band for a protective shield that can be cleaned or replaced if and when it becomes contaminated.

Similarly, over in the US, architects BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, Kohn Pedersen Fox and Handel Architects have teamed up to manufacture face shields based on a design from open-source files by Erik Cederberg of Swedish 3D printing firm 3DVerkstan. The design is purposely simple: a laser-cut clear plastic shield covers the face and a 3D printed visor band fits across the forehead. Whereas the original file is for a single element, the architecture team has further optimised this for high volume production to be able to print some 50 units within a 24-hour cycle per printer. They now plan to extend production to BIG’s London and Copenhagen offices. (BIG’s 3D face shields files are now accessible for anyone to access and use for free via this link)

BIG Face Shield 3D Print 3 (c) Bernardo Schuhmacher

These are early days in the coronavirus pandemic, and we will no doubt be seeing more such collaborative work in the coming weeks. Perhaps there are parallels to be drawn with war times –  often a hotbed of ideas and with the urgency of the occasion accelerating the rate of change. World War II united some of the finest inventors and creatives. Away from the front line, architects, engineers, and designers, from their studios and on assembly lines, made life-saving inventions. Charles and Ray Eames’ Wartime Leg Splint, for instance, helped push the possibilities of the new plyform material pioneered by the design duo. Similarly, the examples of the last few weeks show the positive power of design and innovation, of how through trust and teamwork brands can work collectively towards progress.

Images from top: PPA Faceshield © BIG; Seat’s Martorell facility manufactures automated ventilators © Seat; McLaren Production Centre in Woking where the facility is testing Covid-19 medical ventilators © Spinach Branding; 3D print and laser-cut medical shields by BIG, KPF and Handel © BIG; Seat’s ventilators © Seat

Ventilators made by SEAT
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