Staff from Lews Castle College and wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust have worked together to produce PPE (personal protective equipment) locally for NHS doctors and nurses, using facilities at the Innovation Centre sponsored by the community wind farm charity.

Visors to help protect frontline staff from contracting coronavirus have been made in the college’s new Innovation Centre using their 3D printer and were delivered to the health board’s Chris Anne Campbell yesterday (Monday) by Point and Sandwick Trust’s engineering consultant, Tony Robson.

Six visor headbands, and packs of disposable clear plastic sheets to form the faceshields, were handed over after college staff, working in partnership with Tony Robson and Point and Sandwick Trust’s development manager, Calum Macdonald, came up with the PPE solution.

The visor headbands are being produced on the 3D printer used for plastics at the Innovation Centre. Clear plastic sheets are then attached to these headbands and replaced after use. 

Although it takes one hour to print out each headband, 100 of them have been pledged to NHS Western Isles. They are being made using an approved design downloaded from the internet and are designed to help protect health and social care staff from contracting the virus from people who are positive for Covid-19, including those who may be asymptomatic and undiagnosed. 

The see-through plastic sheets clip on to the headbands and are easy to source – being an everyday office item – but the headband components are much more difficult to obtain.

It was the production of the headbands that college staff, helped by Tony and Calum, had focused their attention on and all the materials are being funded by Point and Sandwick Trust. 

Gordon Jamieson, NHS Western Isles chief executive, said: “We would like to thank all those involved in producing these visors. We are extremely grateful for these pieces of important PPE which will help ensure our staff are kept safe over the coming weeks and months. 

“Again we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has offered donations, support and assistance during this time. We are grateful beyond measure and appreciate the continued thoughts and kindness of our local community.”

Tony, who had learned that such protective equipment was in short supply locally, was delighted to give the first box to NHS Western Isles. 

He said: “We are supplementing what’s available to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to use a protective visor if they want. Staff seemed quite keen on it; they seemed to like the design, so that’s good. There can’t be enough of these things and staff feel a bit more reassured if they have a visor, rather than just a mask. It’s a common sense solution – made locally.”

He explained: “They used the 3D printer to cut a mounting, a band that you then clip a sheet of plastic to, for the visor. The plastic shields are disposable and we aim to produce 100 of the plastic headbands, which can be reused endlessly. We have given them the first six… so that’s six people who will now be protected.”

Point and Sandwick Trust, which runs the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm near Stornoway for the sole benefit of the community, funded the expansion of the Innovation Centre at the Lews Castle College UHI campus, and the purchase of its first 3D printer, back in 2018 – an investment which subsequently levered in more funding from the Outer Hebrides LEADER project. 

Calum Macdonald, development manager for Point and Sandwick Trust, said: “Point and Sandwick Trust has been working with staff at the college for the past couple of weeks to get the 3D printer making visors and head clips for staff at the hospital.

“It's not at all a straightforward thing to organise because they have to be made to the right spec and with the right materials but thanks to the technical skill of the fantastic staff at the college, led by Ian F Macdonald, the first batch has been delivered to the health board. Our aim is to get the hospital supplied this week and to offer them to the care sector next week.”

Roddy Ferguson, head of technology at Lews Castle College UHI, said: “Engineering staff at the college were very keen to do their bit to support the local health and social care sectors during the current Covid-19 crisis by utilising the 3D-prototyping equipment from the college’s Innovation Centre to produce safety visors suitable for those working in the frontline against the spread of coronavirus. Working with the National 3D Printing Society and Point and Sandwick Trust, staff identified an innovative design for face-shield frames which they have now been printing at the college, and with the help of funding from Point and Sandwick Trust and Outer Hebrides LEADER, they hope to continue to produce significant numbers of the safety visor frames in the coming weeks."