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Using technology for the greater good

Using technology for the greater good

The on-going Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a shortage of numerous products, with PPE for frontline workers being one of the main areas for concern. In order to help combat this, many businesses are turning their hands to the production of additional PPE by using their in-house capabilities.

Highly versatile laser cutting machines have become an essential piece of equipment for businesses operating in a range of industries, due to the variety of materials that laser cutters can process, together with their fast processing times and efficient workflows. In fact, many businesses that use laser cutters as part of their everyday work have been able to quickly adapt to the impact of the Covid-pandemic, by producing such items as face shields and visors in minimal turnaround times and very often on a not-for-profit basis, for local care homes and NHS trusts.

The most common materials used for this type of PPE are clear acrylics and plastics, such as PET, which are laser cut and then manually assembled to provide face shields, visors and sneeze screens in accordance with the guidelines laid out by the UK government.

Trotec, a market-leading supplier of laser cutting, engraving and marking machines has created a design file for face shields in order to help businesses looking to contribute PPE to the frontline, which enables the whole item to be cut from a single sheet of material, thus effortlessly optimising production.

However, it’s not just the type of businesses you might expect that have switched their focus in support of PPE production. Companies from a wide range of industries, including acrylic fabrication, personalised gift manufacturers, universities, schools and even paper processing firms have all stepped up to offer their support in the fight against COVID-19. This is largely due to the versatility of laser cutters – it’s very easy to switch production to a new material, even if it has never been used on the machine before.

For example, Trotec customer, Patternise, is more usually associated with the creation of the intricate laser cut paper displays that are often used to provide a stunning centrepiece for events and retail displays.

Rob Payne, the company’s owner, explained: “We immediately accepted the challenge to make visors for key frontline health workers, which were primarily manufactured on our high-speed Trotec GS1000 laser cutter. We were able to supply 1600 visors within an extremely short timeframe, and thanks to the support of our suppliers, we were also able to produce all visors at no charge to those in desperate need.”

The worldwide laser community has also been quick to share the artwork files and advice that have enabled even the smallest craft businesses to easily switch to PPE production.

Elise Williams runs Etsy shop, Goozeberry Hill, which specialises in personalised gift products that are predominantly made from wood, paper and card. Elise had never cut plastics on her Speedy 300 laser cutter before, and she admitted that: “There was a lot of trial and error before I perfected the technique!”  Now though, Elise has produced over 750 masks (and  counting!) being that are being distributed in her area.

She continued: “They have gone to bus drivers, care workers, mental health nurses and everyone in between. The project has been funded by generous donations from the public.”

Although there are several different technologies available, laser cutting is proving to be the production method of choice for many organisations. The Engine House in Bexley provides an innovative workspace and incubator for start-ups, as well as a Tech Makers studio for rapid prototyping.

Having been contacted by its local authority, The Engine House team jumped into action. Initially using traditional methods, such as injection moulding and die-cutting, the team decided to switch to its laser cutter. Having waited a week to receive the initial design from the fabricators, it discovered that some changes had to be made, as the process was too slow.

Lewie Winters, Head Of Creative Services at The Engine House, confided: “We needed proof of concept for our newly designed face shield and decided to put our laser cutter to use. PETG was the material of choice so we placed an order with a 24-hour delivery, and whilst waiting for it to arrive, we used a mixture of card and laminate paper to prototype the design on our laser cutter for approval.

“Within a matter of hours, we were able to take an idea and turn it into reality and are now likely to obtain CE certification this week, whereupon we will be able to produce 20,000 units per day to help supply the NHS.”

Computer Engineer, Andrew Rudge, who had been using a 3D printer with an output rate of one visor every two hours, has since transferred production to a Trotec Speedy 100 laser cutter, which has significantly increased the volume of production.

He said: “I’ve been able to make 70 visors in a few hours using the laser and have already sent out 200 complete kits that were made on the Speedy 100, with another batch of 1000 underway.”

Alongside PPE, many companies have also been creating other solutions to help in the fight against COVID-19, including social distancing signage and acrylic door openers, which help to reduce contact with potentially dirty surfaces. Others are laser cutting the fabrics being used to produce medical ‘scrubs’.

The ability to react quickly to changing market demands has been proven to support the longevity and on-going success of many businesses. Although much of the activity necessitated by the current pandemic has been of the not-for-profit variety, it helps to illustrate that, in times of need, a laser cutter can be easily adapted for use with new materials and products.

For Trotec customers, the free materials database provides guidance on machine settings that make it easier for customers to work with new substrates, while the online global community has seen Trotec users worldwide share ideas and support each other during  the unprecedented circumstances that they are experiencing.

Trotec is also providing online demonstrations of its laser cutters and engravers as well as a series of webinars, with the first UK-hosted event, Laser Engravers Then & Now: The latest advancements that you should know about”, scheduled to take place on 30th April at 3.00pm.

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