Nurses at Ottawa Inner City Health wear the protective face shields created by faculty and students at the University of Ottawa. Photo by Evelyne Langelier.
A small group of University of Ottawa faculty and students are making a big impact in the fight against COVID-19 by using their engineering know-how and 3D printers to produce much-needed face shields for frontline healthcare workers in the city.
Using the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace lab — where students in design courses can use the equipment and the space to test and prototype their designs — they are now making as many as 300 face shields a day as it becomes increasingly difficult globally to source protective personal equipment.
"Supporting frontline workers is extremely important, and we're happy that we can,” said Hanan Anis, engineering professor at the University of Ottawa who started the project.
The group is receiving a $25,000 donation from Scotiabank – one portion of the $2.5 million the Bank has earmarked for community response efforts across its global footprint with the aim of supporting those populations and communities most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
University of Ottawa students Simon Tremblay (left) and Jason Demers (right), students work on protective face shields at the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace lab.
Scotiabank’s $2.5-million commitment includes:
- $1.2 million to empower our regional teams to support local charities that are working very hard to address the most urgent community needs;
- $400,000 to the United Way's COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund;
- $150,000 to select academic partners working on rapidly scalable COVID-19 healthcare innovations; and
- A $750,000 fund to support the emerging needs of local charities as the pandemic continues to evolve.
The University of Ottawa and its Centre for Entrepreneurship and Engineering Design (CEED) is among the Bank’s select academic partners to receive support for their initiative.
Sandra Odendahl, Scotiabank’s Vice-President of Global Sustainability and Social Impact, said the donation came together after someone on her team spotted a news item about university engineering labs getting innovative with 3D printers to help produce protective equipment.
Odendahl reached out informally to professors at the University of Ottawa, where she is an alumnus of the engineering school, and other schools to see if they were working on a similar project.
That’s when they learned about Anis and the face shield initiative, she says.
“It ended up changing our way of thinking how we allocate donations too,” said Odendahl. “We made sure to carve out a tranche for grassroots innovation projects by really clever people at colleges and universities that are trying to do scalable initiatives right now.”
Jacques Beauvais, the University of Ottawa’s Dean of Engineering, says he’s proud of its engineering and maker communities who are working together during this time of great demand.
“It’s important to have homegrown solutions, and Scotiabank’s generous donation will allow us to help deliver exactly that for Canada’s frontline healthcare workers,” he said.
For the group of faculty and students at the University of Ottawa, the $25,000 goes a long way, said Anis.
"It makes a huge impact,” she said. “We need a lot of material, and the funding means that we can get more 3D printers if needed."
Anis founded and runs the CEED which allows students and community members to access the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace. The idea for the masks came when she saw the growing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of healthcare workers mount in Italy, she says.
It prompted her to think about how she and the local community could help. At the time, there were discussions in the maker community about how to use 3D printers to create items to assist the healthcare sector in the battle against the novel coronavirus. Anis added,
“It started off by really waking up one day and seeing the horrible images coming out of Italy… At the time, we didn't have many cases – it was a case or two in Ottawa. I kind of saw the writing on the wall.”
Anis sent around an email looking for ideas and people who wanted to help, and she formed a group of a few people.
“The face shield was the first need,” she said. “Before anything, we need to protect healthcare workers.”
After successfully producing two, Anis took to social media to call for hospitals who wanted to receive them. Montfort hospital in Ottawa reached out to the university and worked with Anis and her team to develop and test a prototype over the course of 10 days.
They have since ramped up from two face shields to making as many as 300 a day, Anis said.
As of Tuesday, Anis and her team were able to give more than 850 shields to local hospitals such as Montfort, The Ottawa Hospital, Bruyère as well as some smaller hospices. Among the recipients were nurses tasked with assessing patients for COVID-19 who did not have any personal protective equipment until last Wednesday, said Anis.
In total, they have produced roughly 1,000 face-shields using 3D printers to make the band and using computer-controlled cutting machines to cut the clear sheets of plastic required for the shield, Anis said. On average, each shield costs about $10 to produce.
Others have pitched in too, from volunteers to deliver the shields to each hospital to individuals and companies with 3D printers who produce headbands on their own and drop them off at the lab daily.
"We have been lucky that the community in Ottawa has been helping us a lot... I hope that what comes out of this is that we are in it together."
Meanwhile, Anis is working with local companies to take their prototype and create them at a larger, faster scale, she said.
She has received requests for thousands of shields from local hospitals, a tall order for the Makerspace lab alone, she said.
"If successful, then they can crank out a shield every two minutes… We are doing this until we can find processes to do this properly."