U of T researcher and Toronto Public Library form partnership to make face shields with 3D printers

A reusable plastic face shield is held up on display
With the help of the Toronto Public Library, which loaned its 3D printers, a U of T researcher in the Faculty of Medicine is helping churn out thousands of reuseable face shields for health-care workers during the COVID-19 crisis (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and personal protective equipment supplies dwindle, one University of Toronto researcher is working on a novel solution for front-line workers in the city.

Thanks to a partnership between U of T and Toronto Public Library, Azad Mashari, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine, will be making reusable face shields using 3D printers the public library system lent to Toronto General Hospital, part of the University Health Network.

“Face shields are really simple pieces of personal protective equipment to make,” says Mashari. “They’re needed in large quantities right now during the COVID-19 pandemic by health-care workers and those working in essential service positions.” 

The library loaned 10 of its 3D printers, previously used by library card-holders, to Mashari and his team at the Lynn & Arnold Irwin Advanced Perioperative Imaging Lab (APIL). The machines have to be repurposed for medical use and will be running around the clock to churn out the badly needed protective gear.

“The 3D printers in our lab and at our collaborating sites have the capacity to run pretty much 24 hours a day, and have the potential to print tens of thousands of face shields, if not more,” says Mashari.

Azad Mashari, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine, says 3D printers lent to Toronto General Hospital by Toronto Public Library will be running “pretty much 24 hours a day” to make reusable face shields (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

With the COVID-19 virus being spread through respiratory droplets and close person-to-person contact, face shields have become a critical piece of personal protective equipment for health-care staff. They are thin pieces of plastic that act as a barrier to protect the wearer’s face from bodily fluids and airborne debris. 

The shortage of personal protective equipment, including N95 masks and rubber gloves, is a serious challenge faced by health-care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic – one that Mashari says is exacerbated by the often disposable nature of the gear.

“A problem that is faced in health care is that most items are designed to be single-use. Not only does this create a lot of environmental waste, but it causes difficulties with supply levels during crises when large volumes of critically important equipment are required,” Mashari says.

Mashari says his team at APIL is working alongside researchers at Glia Inc. to create, design and distribute face shields to front line health-care workers. Founded by Dr. Tarek Loubani of Western University, Glia develops high quality, open-source medical devices.

(photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

The Glia and APIL team used face shield designs from existing open source blueprints as a basis for their face shields, which are now available online and free for use.

“The beauty of open source development is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. So, we looked online for open source designs, reached out to the developers and then started making modifications to the designs and testing them,” Mashari says.

The reusable face shields are made from plastic, mylar and elastic. Each one costs about $10 to create, says Mashari, which is about twice the price point of most single-use face shields currently available. They are compliant with Health Canada regulations, as Glia is an approved device-maker for this type of medical equipment, says Mashari.

Approximately 2,000 face shields have been ordered and are actively being distributed across Ontario, he says.

Currently, the shields are intended for use by health-care workers. However, Mashari says they may be distributed to other essential service workers in the future.

“We’ve received inquiries from grocery chains for example – so there is potential to expand the project, but we are supplying hospital networks first.”

The Bulletin Brief logo

Subscribe to The Bulletin Brief