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University rallies to address equipment shortages

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Around the world, there are dire shortages of medical-grade resources to treat COVID-19 patients, with personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and respirators in notably short supply.

Teams at the University of Newcastle have come together to address this key health concern and are working to produce desperately needed medical equipment.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Faculty of Engineering, Professor Brett Ninness, said the incredible minds involved had led to the conceptualisation and development of a range of projects.

“As scientists and engineers, our responsibility is to try and solve some of the world’s greatest challenges, and right now, COVID-19 is it,” he said.

“From face shields; to 3D printed equipment; to novel tests for COVID-19; and the repurposing of existing drugs, the activities underway across our institution are incredible.”

As a result of the efforts, critical face shields have already been delivered where they’re needed most.

A product of physicists, engineers, designers and health workers working together, the face shields are made from a piece of PET plastic held in place by an elastic headband.

“The chosen design is simple and fast to assemble, so we’re able to generate hundreds a day which are already being distributed in our region and beyond,” Professor Paul Dastoor, Director of the Centre for Organic Electronics (COE) said.

While the COE team are well-versed in the development and production of advanced medical devices, the rapid manufacture of medical PPE was not business as usual for them.

“We had stocks of PET available to us for use in the production of our printed solar panels,” Professor Dastoor said.

“As a result of the scoping work done by our colleagues, we were able to tap into the collective expertise of the University, connecting with fellow researchers to arrive at a prototype we knew we could manufacture rapidly.

“Industry partners were also quick to support the cause, with Guru Labels on the Central Coast laser cutting the PET in bulk and the Australian National Fabrication Facility team based at the University contributing to the build of the shield assembly line.

“The beauty of this kind of effort is, now we have a model we know addresses the needs of those on the ground, we’ve been able to collaborate to make the production process even faster.

“There’s truly a community rallying together to contribute what they can in this crisis.”

The indiscriminate nature of COVID-19 means the University’s initiatives to address equipment shortages have the potential to make a difference not only locally but nationally and even internationally.

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